Hashtag JOMO: Joy of Missing Out

I was sitting at work one day when a co-worker was walking me through why he throws social gatherings. I had just finished explaining to him that I find him a bit extroverted and he said he definitely is not. So I had challenged him by asking why he throws so many get-togethers if he was, indeed, introverted. In an effort to explain himself, he opened up about some deep, inner wrangling that I think consumes a majority of younger people today, and so I thought I’d share.

“I have a checklist of things I want to do in order to be the type of person I think I should be. Sometimes, when I feel like I’ve been too busy being alone, I think to myself, Ok, I should try to be more social now. So I like to throw get-togethers to check off that box on my checklist. I feel like I have to be social to be a well-rounded person.” 

Whenever I hear millennials verbally rationalize whether or not they should do something or attend an event, I usually hear something similar to what my co-worker expressed. It’s the fear of not being able to check off all the boxes, as if not being able to do everything, achieve everything, excel in everything, socialize all the time, attend every event, and take on every adventure somehow makes you less of a “successful” person. In hashtag terms, it’s the FOMO on life. As if missing out on these opportunities indicates a life less lived. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love opportunities. I love to recognize them and to grasp them, to tackle them head-on. But I think we’ve lost sight of our choices and our lives are being heavily dictated by a four-letter hashtag.

I can relate to my co-worker’s sentiment. Raised to believe that tucking as many achievements under my belt, while knowing as many people as possible, made me a “success”, I was the ultimate “YES”-girl in my late teens and early twenties. I said “Yes” to everything! I don’t even think my brain had time to process what was being asked of me before the positive response flew out of my mouth. It was as if I was a robot programmed for this one particular life mission. Other robots got to shoot stuff or clean houses, and I’m over here spewing “yeses” from my antennae. Sure, it got a lot of people to like me (because I was “Oh so accommodating!”), and yes, I did create a sense of recognition (because “How can one human balance so many achievements at once?”), but honestly, I doubt I did anything much for ME during those early years. Despite all the accolades, saying yes to everything did not actually bring me more joy.

So when did #FOMO start to take root in my generation’s short lives? I think we have social media to thank for the birth of FOMO (literally), however, I believe that “FOMO” was already being instilled in us even before Instagram and Facebook started to compare us against each other. In case you didn’t know, FOMO is an acronym for the term “Fear of Missing Out”. Underlying this fear is the need to be a part of whatever it is that society thinks we should be a part of, which has been shaping us since, well, birth. The biggest factor causing this fear is really our comparison with others, fueled by social media (thanks again!). We can ask, “Missing out on what, exactly?” And the answer is, “Missing out on whatever everyone else has.” We worry that by failing to say yes to everything, we will fall behind our peers, who are in essence, advertised as saying yes to everything. The early bird gets the worm.

What I hate most about this is the falseness of the premise, which is that there is a shortage of opportunities available to us. The reality is, there are way more opportunities available today (too many, at times) than there were a decade ago. By trying to convince us that there is scarcity in the world, we wire ourselves with the need to grab everything we can. It’s a very negative image to paint, dark in color, sour in mood. Instead of seeing someone doing something great on social media and saying, “Wow, that’s so fantastic of you!”, it creates this response of like, “OMG, FOMO”, in a real-life, acronym-only-conversation kind of way.  It’s a concept that sets the groundwork for making people feel as if they are on the outside looking in on the things they AREN’T doing, when in reality, the things they ARE doing may be different, but equally fantastic, too! It creates the need to continually add to one’s life, as if it wasn’t already enough. As if we aren’t enough.

Slowly, societal expectations are limiting our choices. We are brainwashed to think that we cannot create our own definition of success. It’s a pre-determined box that we all have to fit in in order to be considered worthy. And like my co-worker pointed out, there are a lot of boxes to check off. So the fear of missing out (on being “successful”) fuels our need to say “Yes” to as many things as we can, without allowing us to realize that by saying “yes” to one thing, you are essentially saying “no” to other things. We are only one person and it would be impossible to say yes to everything, because the possibilities are infinite. We are given the illusion that we are saying “yes” to everything when in reality, we are saying “yes” to everything society expects us to say yes to. In that sense, we’ve lost our freedom to make a choice, because we are saying no to the things that society has decided has no value.

JOMO is the antithesis of FOMO. It is the JOY of missing out. It’s a concept based around the positivity of abundance, rather than the negativitiy of scarcity. Honestly, we need to take ownership of our lives, and have the power to choose what we do with it. The first step in doing that is to abandon the fear. Who wants to make their life decisions based on fear? What kind of life does that give you? Rather than constantly comparing yourself to the Joneses and living in a state of fear, embrace a heightened state of confidence, of self-belief, of self-freaking-worth. When young people are asked what they want in life, many of them don’t know. They will tell you the standard answers, such as a job, a house, a car, money, a family, but when you dig deeper, they don’t actually know. Was it them that initially wanted this, or did someone convince them that this is what they want? In being shaped at an early age to want certain things and to need to keep up with everyone else, we’ve lost that ability to say, “Hold up. Actually, you know what, that’s not what I want.” Stop the hamster wheel, hop off, and live a human life.

When I attend a party, I am choosing to attend a party, joyously, fully, whole-heartedly, and committedly. Gone are the days when I would be getting ready for a social gathering and dreading it because I did not actually want to go. But I hear this voiced dread ALL THE TIME from people I know. If you don’t want to go, don’t go. There are invitations and events that Mike and I purposefully decline, either because it does not line up with our lifestyle or our values, or what have you. If we determine that we need a weekend to unwind and relax, we aren’t going to try to squeeze in one thing to appease our great aunt, much to a great aunt’s dismay.

The funny thing is that, at times, yes I can be indecisive. But I am the type of person where, when I know, I just know. Once I’ve chosen in a very mindful way, the alternatives kind of disappear. I let them go, wholly and completely, and move on with my life. There should not be any regrets if you really, truly, joyfully choose one thing over another. There’s no looking back and wondering the whole night how the party you declined is faring, who is talking to who, etc. There is no (and there shouldn’t be) any concern for things that do not add value to your life. If you are left wondering about who went where and what so and so did, you have not completely freed yourself from those comparisons. In fact, I would like to point out that you may be obsessed by other people’s lives, at the expense of living your own.

JOMO can only be achieved once you switch your perspective to one of gratitude. It’s seeing that what you have is worth something. You don’t have to keep chasing the grass that may or may not be greener on the other side. Really ask yourself “Why?” Why are you making the choices you are making? If you are here, but you want to be over there, then go over there! But for God’s sake, don’t look back and think, “Ugh, I should have stayed over there.” Understand that you cannot have everything, but you can choose the things that you actually want. It’s the intentionality of it all that attracts me. The ability to choose. The FREEDOM. It’s so empowering. I hesitate to even embrace JOMO – because of the term “missing out” within it. You AREN’T missing out. You simply chose something else. And who’s to say THEY aren’t missing out on what YOU have? Po-tay-toe, Po-tah-toe. 

In 2017, YES-girl realized she had a superpower, and that was the power to say “No”. I was slowly breaking free from my robotic charm. My hardware must’ve gone a bit haywire because I started to say no to more and more things, events, statuses, and even relationships. In doing so, I became more in control of my own life. I was freer, lighter, happier, and ultimately, I learned more about who I was and who I wanted to be.

I had an old friend once comment that “I had reached an unreasonable state of happiness.” It’s not as if I’ve discovered this happiness like some fountain of youth or other mystical thing, and that it was unfathomable, as if it could not really, truly be achieved. I was pretty proud of that statement, false as it may be. I think anyone can reach this happy stage. They just have to stop being tied down by the fear of not being everyone else.

Choose JOMO.

But seriously, I’m not using that as a hashtag.

French Macarons

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I decided to share my recipe for making French Macarons. I actually learned how to make macarons last Valentine’s Day, almost exactly one year ago. I took a class and went through the motions, without realizing how difficult it really is to make beautiful macarons! It seems easy when they’ve got everything pre-measured and walk you through it step by step, but there is a sort of intuition that is required to make them successfully. Like bread baking, it isn’t about numbers and timing, but rather, knowing how the texture is supposed to feel and how the consistency is supposed to look. Either way, it took me about 40 failed attempts before I could consistently produce good batches of macarons. With each attempt, I scribbled down notes on oven temperature, timing, texture, consistency, amounts of each ingredient weighed out to the tenth of a decimal in grams. It was a real process. It required multiple taste tests and trials, some of which ended in tears. Each batch takes approximately 3 hours to make, from beginning to end. Little did I know I was going to repeat the process again with bread making, which takes more than 12 hours from beginning to end. But maybe I am purposefully attracted to such processes – for the scientific approach, as well as for the greater reward.

It isn’t easy to do and it may take just as many trials as I to get this right. Don’t give up, because at the end, you can make 40 at a time, instead of spending $2 a piece (or more). Life hack: I made macarons as a side hustle after I graduated dental school. I still do take orders for parties, but mostly from family and friends. Try it as a Valentine’s Day activity with your loved one, or make a batch as a surprise gift!

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French Macarons

The Ingredients:

***Each ingredient has to be measured precisely with a weighing scale. I cannot stress enough the exactness required with this recipe.

  • 7 oz powdered sugar
  • 4 oz almond flour
  • 4.25 oz egg whites at room temperature.
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of cream of tartar
  • 3.5 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp Grand Marnier (or alternative alcohol flavoring you’d like to use …. Baileys, Banana Cream Rum… )
  • Food coloring (I use liquid food coloring, amount of drops depending on the color I want to achieve)
  • Any dry powder flavoring you want to add to give the macarons flavor. I usually make it without additional flavoring, but some ideas would be cocoa powder, teas, and coffee. ***If adding additional dry powder flavorings, please mix with almond flour when you pulse through the processor on step #3. 

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The Process:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. (Every oven is different. Mine in particular is usually cooler than it says on the display. Originally, when I started this recipe, I was told to do 280 degrees F. However, the macarons kept coming out undercooked, so I finally found the temperature that works for me. Also, as a side note, the trays have to be in the center of my oven. The heat from my oven comes from the top, so if the trays are too close to the top, they will burn and end up being crunchier than I would like. Lastly, the difference between conventional ovens versus convectional ovens do matter too. My oven operates with the heat coming from the top, and a fan in the back of the oven distributing air. It may take a few tries, but find what temperature works for your oven. Don’t be afraid to change these numbers to suit your particular situation.)
  2. Prepare parchment paper to line the baking sheets/trays. You can buy a template, or you can make one yourself. I draw 1 inch circles spaced 1/2 an inch apart on a piece of parchment paper to use as a template. (Do not be greedy by trying to make larger macarons when you start. The larger the macarons, the more difficult it is to maintain their shape, therefore, the more likely that you will end up with flat, non-fluffy macarons. Try this size first, and when you feel confident enough, then go bigger and bigger.) This template paper lies underneath the parchment paper where I lay my macarons on. Parchment paper is thin enough to see through. It is not sufficient to replace parchment paper with wax paper, learned the hard way. ***Important note – the parchment paper must lay flat on the tray and not roll up at all. This may require cutting a piece of paper to exactly fit your tray. The macarons are very light and airy, so when they are pipetted onto the parchment paper, they will be influenced by the paper’s shape if it rolls up on the ends or what have you.
  3. Pulse powdered sugar and almond flour in food processor 3 times at 10 seconds each. After pulsing, sift the mixture through a metal strainer into a large bowl.
  4. In a stand mixer with whisk attachment, whisk whites, cream of tartar and salt on medium speed until frothy and foamy. Return the speed to 2. Gradually add the granulated sugar to the egg mixture. By gradual, I mean REALLY gradual. I would let the sugar sprinkle in at a constant rate. After adding all the sugar, keep at setting 2 for two minutes. Increase to setting 4, mixing for two minutes, and then setting 6 and mix for two minutes. Go all the way to setting 10, after which, stop the mixer and lift the head. There should be stiff white peaks when you lift the whisk attachment from the mixture. If that is the case, add the alcohol and food coloring, and whisk for 20 seconds more at speed 8. When I first started, this particular step gave me some trouble. It took me a while to discover the 2 minute intervals as the timing that worked for me. Just be aware not to rush the process. Time the 2 minutes with a timer or stop watch. And don’t overdo it either, lest the mixture completely deflates. DSC02815 DSC02819
  5. Sift almond sugar mixture (1/3rd at a time) into the egg sugar mixture. Fold the almond sugar mixture into the egg sugar mixture gently. The folding technique is quite difficult to explain. I use a soft rubber spatula, and I scrape the sides of the bowl twice, then scoop under. I continue to do this until the almond sugar mixture is completely folded in (until you can’t see it anymore). I repeat for the rest of the 1/3rd portions. Total, you may only want to fold 40 times. The best way to check if the consistency is right is to do the ribbon test. Take the spatula, scoop the mixture, and see if you can drip the mixture enough to do a figure 8 shape, without having a break in the dripping. If not, then it isn’t runny enough. You want to fold just enough to be able to do this, otherwise, fold too much and your macarons will be too runny and won’t hold their shape. DSC02822
  6. Transfer batter to a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch round tip, and pipe onto baking sheets, making sure to stay within the confines of your one inch circles. You want the pipette tip to be about 1/2 inch from the tray. The closer the better. You want to start pipetting in the center of the circle, holding it still and letting the macaron expand around the pipette. Do not move the pipette around. To stop pipetting, pull the pipette straight up. Avoid trapping air bubbles as much as you can. DSC02827
  7. Rap the bottom of the baking sheet on the counter to release any air bubbles. By rap, I actually mean, drop onto the counter from 6 inches above, causing a loud BANG! You will see the bubbles rise to the surface as they are released. Bubbles can ruin your macarons when they rise. I bang them on the counters about 3-4 times, just to be sure that I’ve rid the sweets of all trapped air. Just make sure you drop it evenly, to avoid toppling all your hard work onto the ground.
  8. Let dry at room temperature for 15-25 minutes. You will know that they are ready to bake when you can touch the surface of the macaron lightly with a finger and it doesn’t stick.
  9. Bake in the oven at 300 degrees F for 8 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake at 250 degrees F. Remove from oven and place parchment paper on a baking rack to cool. Macarons must cool completely prior to removal from parchment paper. If the macarons are not cool or are undercooked, they will stick to the parchment paper. If that is the case, then you know that you will need extra time to cook the macarons. Maybe you can try lowering the temperature to 200 degrees F after the 16 minutes, and allow to cook for a few minutes more. Just make sure you don’t burn the tops. DSC02833
  10. Once cool, you can use a dough scraper to separate the macarons from the tray. If they are cooked correctly, they may even lift from the parchment paper on their own, without any prying.

Macaron Berry Jam Filling

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*** You can use anything to fill your beautiful macarons with. For me, I am impartial to boysenberry jam, but substitute marmalade or strawberry jam and you’ll be just as happy. Or you can opt for chocolate ganache, in which case, scroll ahead to the chocolate alternative.

The Ingredients:

  • 4 oz unsalted butter (softened at room temperature)
  • 9 oz powdered sugar
  • 3-4 oz jam or marmalade

The Process

  1. In stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat butter until smooth and fluffy (at Speed 2).
  2. Gradually add sifted powdered sugar.
  3. Add berry jam.
  4. Beat until just blended.
  5. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hr to allow it to stiffen up. I prefer this method because I like to spread them onto the macaron with a knife. If you would prefer to pipette, you can pipette onto a macaron right away. Note, if it is too runny, you can always add a bit more powdered sugar.

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Chocolate Ganache

The Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 12 oz white or dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 3/4 oz unsalted butter (softened)

The Process:

  1. In a small saucepan, heat cream over medium heat to a simmer. Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl and pour hot cream over it. Let stand one minute.
  2. Slowly stir chocolate mixture with a rubber spatula to combine.
  3. Add butter and stir mixture until smooth.
  4. Let cool, stirring every ten minutes. Once ganache cools, pipe onto a macaron, and use a second macaron to gently spread the filling.

***One final tip! The trick with the filling is to put a very thin layer, so as to avoid detracting from the yumminess of a macaron. Macarons are light in flavor, and adding too much jam or chocolate can turn the macaron into a fruit-flavored or chocolate-flavored crabby patty. I add the thinnest layer I can muster with a bread-knife on the back of one macaron, and skip adding filling to the second side. This is just my personal preference, so go ahead and play around with it, and tell me what you end up liking best! 

Travel: Costa Rica

So as some of you may know, my brother recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica. We were sitting at the round dinner table yesterday, the same one that we grew up on, eating our meals together as kids but also now, as adults. We were on our lunch break from work (we both work at the same dental clinic) and he was sharing with me his recent photos from the trip. I was floored by the beauty and the color that he was able to capture. I really appreciate his outlook and eye for photography and so I decided to share with you guys my favorite roll of film that was developed portraying Costa Rica through his lens. My brother uses a vintage camera and shoots everything in film. None of this was re-touched, and any artistic color you see was dependent on his decision to overexpose and produce burnout on the film, or not. Provecho!

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Photo Credit: Rian Oliver

Zuppa Toscana

While Mike and I continue to wait for winter to hit, we are doing away with some make-believe in this 85 degreee California heat. There isn’t much to complain about regarding these summery temperatures, except for the fact that the sourdough country loaves that I’ve been making have been with nary a partner-in-crime. And now, with Mike getting interested in the bread baking as well, with the plan to begin fermenting his own starter tomorrow, bread consumption must increase, preferably with the help of some accompaniment such as soup.

In light of that, we made Zuppa Toscana to pair with the bread batches that resulted from my two days off. Mike is not fond of soup as a meal, unless they are of a hearty variety. I, on the other hand, can eat soup for days, as long as it comes hand-in-hand with some gluttonous friend. Luckily, this soup fills one up quite nicely, leaving bellies satisfied and hearts full.

The Ingredients:

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  • 1.5-2 pds. bulk hot Italian sausage
  • 1.25 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 tbs . garlic, minced
  • 5 (130z) can chicken broth
  • 4 Russett potatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 bunch fresh spinach, tough stems removed

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The Process:

  1. Remove the skin from the Italian sausage,and cook with red pepper flakes in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crumbly, and no longer pink. I like to cook a bit longer until browned, usually about 10-15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Cook the onions and garlic until onions are soft, usually on low heat so the garlic does not burn.
  3. Pour chicken broth into Dutch oven with onion mixture. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  4. Add the potatoes, and boil until fork tender, about twenty minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the heavy cream and the cooked sausage. Heat through. Mix spinach into the soup just before serving.
  5. Most importantly, serve with fresh, warm bread.

Finance: Why We Chose Standard Repayment Over Loan Forgiveness

We started our loan repayment journey under the IBR program, as advised by so many professionals. But I always knew in my heart that this was not the best path for me. Apart from the fact that IBR resulted in more money paid towards my loans overall, there was the issue of it extending twenty five years into our distant future. I am one who values freedom above many other things. When I was young, I hated when people told me to do things that did not line up with my values. My most hated explanations were “Just because” or “Because I said so”. Talk about lack of motivation. I despised myself when I was forced to do something, because authoritative figures claimed to have the upper hand. I remember thinking to myself, when I get older, I will have control over my own life. Today, I have that same fire feeding a resolve in me to stay free, from things financial or otherwise. I want freedom to do certain types of work. I want freedom from a tight work schedule. I want autonomy in my decisions. I want the freedom to travel whenever I want to. I want to have free time. All of this also requires to be financially free. Having graduated dental school at 26 years old, the IBR program would mean that we would have this burden hanging over our heads until we were past 50 years old. Psychologically, the burden was too much to bear. It was the psychology of the thing that really pushed me towards frugality, financial independence, and hopefully in the near(er) future, freedom.

When I graduated dental school and I finally started working, Mike and I were facing numerous large payments related to moving in together, creating a home for ourselves, getting married, and going on a honeymoon. And while I would not take back any of the decisions we made, we weren’t exactly saving much at the time. The great part is, we weren’t going into debt either. Whereas some people may take out loans for things such as weddings and honeymoons and moving, we definitely stayed within our means and I am proud of that fact.

But once the dust settled and we found peace in our space and identified our roles in everyday life, we stopped having something to spend money on, and we started to see that we were not bad savers after all. In fact, we were saving at such a quick pace, that we would have saved up for a down payment for a house in two months’ time! We started to talk about buying a home for ourselves, when our financial planner asked us a simple question. Do you realize that at this rate, you can pay down your student debt the standard way in less than ten years?

At first, I was aghast. I had spent months trying to convince USC financial advisers, and Mike, and even my financial planner, that there had to be a way to do this. Mike deemed my conclusions as too optimistic, and slightly delusional. He always said, the numbers just don’t work. But in my head, they did work. The numbers don’t lie.

I then went on to bombard our CFP with a million questions. Excited, I could not wait to tell Mike when he got home that night. I remember being so stoked. Initially, he did not believe me. It wasn’t until our financial planner created a spreadsheet that demonstrated our capability to conquer the loan in 9 years, that Mike started to change his view. We were going to be free from these chains fifteen years earlier than we thought!

But with it comes a cost. We will have to give up buying a house, for now. We have to continue a fairly frugal lifestyle, and have concrete intentionality with our money. We have to be able to psychologically see a majority of our paycheck going towards paying down the loans every month. We have to give up the social status symbols that our friends will be collecting under their belts. In exchange, we will have fifteen additional years of freedom. What say you?

I say Hell Yeah! Mike and I are simple people anyway, as can be seen in the rate at which we were saving. We could rationalize not buying a house, not buying a new car, and not getting the latest gadgets. I could not rationalize being tied down by my career choice until I’m past fifty. We decided that yes, we will choose standard repayment over loan forgiveness!

One caveat. We are still enlisted under the IBR program. Why? Under the standard repayment plan, we have to make minimum payments of $6500/month to be able to pay the debt in 9 years. Under IBR, the payments are closer to $400/month. If one of us loses a job, $6500/month is impossible on only one of our incomes. Especially so if I was the one to lose a job. Switching a hundred percent to standard repayment will make us vulnerable to the whims of whatever life may throw at us. The failure of Mike’s start-up company, the selling of the practice I work at, if we decide to have children, disability for either one of us, these are all things that can greatly impact our finances and if we commit to a standard repayment, it can heavily mess with our ability to pay the loans. And trust me, you do not want to default on student loans. However, under IBR, we are able to pay more than the $400/month without penalty, so we stick with IBR in case of a future emergency, but continue to make the larger payments.

Unfortunately, this does not allow us to refinance our loans. Once the loans are refinanced, we become ineligible for IBR. So although the IBR interest rate is a whopping 6.7%, our financial planner convinced us that the IBR buffer for not-so-awesome life moments is well worth the extra interest rate. Once the loans get paid down to a more manageable sum, then we can refinance, since a smaller loan will be much more manageable.

So therein lies our decision tree, our little story.

Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Before we get the nay-sayers out there screaming that this is a fake holiday, let me just say that yes, maybe it is.  It doesn’t mean I like celebrating it any less, all the same. Despite the commercialization of this (and every other) holiday, I believe there are ways for us to celebrate, mindfully. And while this may seem like my excuse to be a romantic, if only for a day, I’d like to plead my case and convince you otherwise, that this is in the interest of getting away from the commercialization and coming a step closer to the actual deal, which is to celebrate love. In other words, hopeless romantic on the loose.

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While the advertising companies are spending billions of dollars trying to convince the world of the different ways one needs to show love, I’m over here singing a song of a different tune. I view Valentine’s Day as another opportunity to celebrate without getting carried away with the spending and the accumulating. And while some may bitterly feel a bit left out this holiday, why don’t we just gravitate a little further away from the traditional Couple’s-Only Club, since we’re already uprooting conventional observances of Cupid’s holiday anyway? Here are my ways to spend Valentine’s Day, frugally, and with less waste.

Frugally  – To Do List for the 5 Love Languages

Quality Time – Avoid the crowds and stay in. We all know the cliche of spending “quality time” with your loved ones by going out for a lovely candlelit dinner at a fancy restaurant, or getting some concert tickets to your favorite band, or watching a movie at the theatres, thanks to movies toting these very things. But might I say that all of these require spending? It may be the inner introvert in me, finding every excuse to avoid large congregations of people, but it’s also the super frugal Fran inside of me, dreading dropping hard-earned pay for something so trivial. So instead of dashing out the front door to spending time driving and waiting in long lines, why not just spend real quality time with each other, by substituting with a home-made dinner for two (left-overs abound!), the playing of your favorite records, or Netflix and chill. Likewise, if you must go out, get outdoors and play.

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Acts of Service – Skip the buying of gifts, substitute acts of service. So I know this isn’t for everyone. There are five love languages, gifting being one of them. Some people just really appreciate gifts. This one just happens to be easy for Mike and I, because we both fall under acts of service. Because of that, we have an easier time letting go of the gifts. Last Christmas, in an effort to disconnect from gifting and everything it brings, I substituted some the present of actions rather than things. I went to the local library and borrowed books on coffee so we may learn about it together. I YouTubed a way to pickle red onions, Mike’s favorite condiment for tacos. I stitched new Velcro onto Mike’s 3 years old motorcycle gloves, so that the latches stick again. A $5 cost instead of a $200 cost. My hands were sore from sewing through stiff leather with an easily bendable needle, but he was pretty stoked. For this Valentine’s Day, I asked for a particular gift from Mike. That is, to remove the rust from the bottom of our cast iron pans, simply because I’ve been too lazy to do it myself. If this style of loving just isn’t for you, then read on ahead for the gift list, below.

Words of Affirmation – Memorize a poem, nix the card. I like words, there’s no doubt about that. My clinical notes in the office are jokingly referred to as essays, and birthday cards just never have enough space. But I have a confliction with buying cards in general. It is undoubtedly much more aesthetic to add a store-bought card to any occasion, and I do have an achilles heel for all things presentable. However, the cost of the fancier stuff run north of $5, sometimes even going so far as to cost more than $10! Additionally, layers of paper that pop up from these gorgeous cards are drool-worthy, but also a bit gut wrenching. Drama aside, I’ve tried to avoid buying cards lately, and have substituted either a small handwritten note, or just a verbal  expression of emotions. For the Whitmans out there, why not memorize a poem? For those who just can’t do without a card, try the card alternative below.

Physical touch – Let your imagination run wild. Not much needs to be said with this one. Probably the most frugal of the five, good old fashioned loving is all it takes. Skip the expensive spa dates and learn massage techniques together. Find ways to get in touch throughout the day, by phone, via text, in a game of tag. Its quite obvious which love language I speak the least. Ending all awkwardness here and now. You just be creative.

Receiving Gifts – Welp! This one can’t be helped. If acts of service did not make the cut, then may I suggest a few thoughtful gift ideas, that won’t break the proverbial piggy bank, and would be loving to the planet at the same time?

Less Waste – The Gift List

This is what my Valentine’s Day wishlist would look like if ever I had one. Unfortunately, I used my wish on the de-rusting of an aforementioned Lodge pan. That was enough for me, but if you are in need of other gift ideas, have at it.

A haircut. I actually asked for this for Christmas last year. I hardly get haircuts. As in, once every 2 years, or once every year and a half. I would love to get them more frequently, but honestly, it gets to be too much for me. Hair is one of those things I used to obsess about as a tween, but it’s all been-there, done-that. I chop it off shoulder length, then just let it grow to the small of my back. On repeat, since college. I also attend one of those generic Fantastic Sam’s places where I pay $20 to chop off most of my hair. Although I did find a location in San Diego once that had happy hour, where the haircut only cost $8 between 5 and 6pm. Score!

A tree instead of flowers. In the U.S.A., about $2 billion worth of cut flowers are bought each Valentine’s Day. While flowers are a compostable gift, and not entirely bad for the environment, what if we try gifting plants itself. A plant can stay alive for a really long time, care-taker depending. These can range drastically, from a $5 succulent from Home Depot, to a $200 tree. Pick what works for your price range. For me, I’ve got my beautiful fiddle leaf, pretty as can be.

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A plantable cardSooooo, after my long spiel about my issue with cards, I did come across these plantable versions. You read right. These cards are made from seed paper, which is 100% compostable. Alternatively, when planted in the ground, these cards claim to grow wildflowers (!!). Which conveniently goes in line with my thinking above.

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Self-Care Products. As I grow older, I embrace this concept of self-care a lot more. There are plenty of self-care products out there that are paving the way by being environmentally friendly, cruelty free, and all natural. Ranging from luscious bars of soap, to shampoo, to beard balm, you name it. These are products that we would use on the daily anyway, so why not gift them something they need?

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A collection of Recipes. Better yet, your recipe collection, attached to a tin can of home-made cookies (or bread, what have you).

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Valentine Celebrations with Everyone

Galentines Day –  popularized by single ladies all over the world, this is now being celebrated by besties everywhere, regardless of the relationship status. Ways to celebrate? Do activities together, such as a yoga class in someone’s living room, or a cooking session in one’s kitchen. Just make sure not to fight over who gets clean up duties.

Dudes’ Hangout – pretty standard kick back, commonplace among Mike and his friends. Pizza and video games? Or have everyone bring a six pack of different brews, and do a beer tasting at home. Coffee cupping sesh also an alternative.

Hosting for Friends and Family – I love to host. Gathering twelve people around our table just makes my heart sing. Why not invite the entire family or crew over and use this holiday as an excuse to eat, drink. and be merry? Cheers!

A Little Bit of Self Love

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  • Early morning meditation.
  • A cup of coffee, made the slow way.
  • Find the time to relax in the middle of the work day.
  • Skip work all together, and spend time at home with family.
  • A decluttering session, mid-February.
  • A candle lit bubble bath for one, music optional.
  • Cuddling up with a book and a blanket.
  • Go to bed at an early hour.

Honestly, the self-love category is my favorite list.

Happy heart week!

 

Cultivating Happiness by Going Back to the Breath.

When I first stepped into a yoga studio, I was not in search of an awakening of sorts. I was twenty and I had not started the search for my life’s purpose or meaning. I wasn’t even aware that I had yet to find my true self. In a way, Yoga was the one who found me, and has been creeping into life’s little crevices ever since, teaching me that only one thing keeps us fully alive, that which is our life source: the breath.

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I attended my first yoga class to support a best friend from high school , J. Lowe,  (pictured above and throughout this post) who just discovered yoga and was teaching her first class. A third bestie completed our trio and we brought along Mike and a roommate of his. I saw the class solely as an exercise routine. Although we were being reminded throughout class to return to our breath, I was too busy concentrating on the sweat dripping down from my forehead to my toes, causing me to slip and slide from my mat like a waterslide laid out amidst summer grass. My mind, a restless wanderer, was constantly wondering whether anyone was looking at me and what they thought of my stance. I was shy of my newbie skill set and the inability to hold postures as gracefully as some of the other swans in the room. I was exhausted ten minutes in, and realized that I didn’t have a single thread of muscle in my puny body. I kept wondering when the hour would be up, looking forward to eating something soon, despite the late hour. I thought that this would be way easier, if only I didn’t have bangs. I was looking around to see what posture to hold, what everyone was wearing, how my friends were faring.

At that point in my life, I had what they call a monkey mind. All these thoughts that had nothing to do with the yoga itself kept barging in and disrupting me and my process. Accompanied with these thoughts were a collection of emotions. Shyness, frustration, insecurity, loneliness, tiredness, empathy, embarrassment, anger, happiness, restlessness, hunger, to name a few and not necessarily in that order. It was an accurate representation of what my life was, a mirrored reflection of a million particles squeezed into a tiny space and creating tumultuous friction as they collided and fought for my attention.

A chase is a word I so lovingly use to describe my past lifestyle. Fast forward a few years later, where I started to do a bit of soul searching to answer one main question. How can I find happiness? I started with the question, “What will make me happy?” and I didn’t stop asking follow up questions. Even now, I still haven’t stopped.

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If you ask somebody what will make them happy, they may say, money will make me happy. Okay why money? Because I will have the ability to pay for food on the table. Okay why food? Because I want to go through every day knowing that I won’t go hungry. Okay why don’t you want to go hungry? Because I don’t want to suffer or feel pain. What will make you feel pain? Being constricted. What else will make you feel constricted? A work schedule, a timeline, expectations… and so on and so forth. And when you strip it down to the barest ingredient, what I found in all my answers was that external forces, things you cannot control, those are what causes a majority of our negative emotions. These external causes of unhappiness include material goods, status, pressures, expectations, and so on. Internal forces, those that we can control because they are inside of us, are the weapons with which we can yield and carve and create our own happiness. They say that happiness comes from within, and I wholly believe in that. I write all the time about how all these things we try to purchase and achieve and accomplish, maybe they will bring us happiness, momentarily, but that happiness will fade. And like some addicting drug, you will then need more to trigger that happiness again, and then even more. The chase will have you wasting your life away trying to find a happiness that is temporary, when you can slow life down and find happiness that is constant.

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As with the yoga example, the external forces are what create a majority of our discomfort on and off the mat. When I was first learning the poses, I would remember being uncomfortable, sometimes to the point of having pain, in some of the more advanced body configurations. What was even worse, was the narrative that quickly followed that pain. My monkey mind would ask me questions like, “What am I doing here?”, “There’s no way you can make it until the end of the class”, “Everybody is watching you fail”, “You’ll never get to be as good as them”, etc. And with that story comes the emotions listed above. As those emotions got triggered, the physical pain would actually feel worse, solely because it is perceived as larger than what it truly is, after being brought to the forefront of the mind. Much of the suffering comes from the emotions we tie to the actions, rather than the action itself. It’s the story that kills us. Slowly, over time, I developed a way to let these thoughts go, which then allowed me to control the amount of suffering there was. Once I let the narrative float by, like clouds, or the thoughts run through, like water, I became more able to sit in those positions with a feeling of groundedness, or contentment. There is a sense of peace that comes with letting things go and returning to the breath, focusing on the one thing that really matters in our life. I learned so much from this lesson than any other lesson about what it really means to be a human being.

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“There are inevitably going to be these pains that arise, whether they are physical, emotional, loss of a loved one, things not going exactly as you want them to go. But the story that we layer on top of that… that actually creates a more intense layer of suffering that can impede this deeper layer of happiness that we are often looking for.”                                                                                            -Corey Muscara

Do you ever notice how a lot of tension in our lives come from the resistance towards things that are happening to us? Instead of pushing back, trying to reshape what happens, forcing control over situations, try to just let it happen. Once I got into that space, I started to really feel free. It was not that everything became one hundred percent perfect, la-dee-da in my life. There were still days when I felt tired, when Mike and I had different viewpoints, when money seemed to control everything, when I had an explosion of emotions, and when my thoughts continued to be all over the place, but my relationship towards everything has shifted to a place of disconnect from these external factors, and somehow, I ended up more grounded. Imagine being tied down to all of these things when the hypothetical tornado hits. These things will just fly up in the air, and you along with it. But to be fully free from it means that you will find an easier time planting your feet solidly on the ground. The ability to watch a whirlwind of life’s surprises pass you by without being swayed is a superpower that we have, but we fail to cultivate. I have found only one way of strengthening that power, and that is to return to the breath.

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To try, at home.

Try to sit cross-legged in a room for even five minutes and focus on your breath. If this is the first time you are trying this, it will be very difficult. Your mind will wander through a rabbit hole, and may possibly never come back. But try to allow these thoughts to simply pass. Practice letting it go and coming back to the breath every time.

Do this at least once a day when your space and mind is clear. I do this while going through a flow in my living room in the early mornings, as the sun peaks through our glass door. Usually, it’s after my roommate and Mike have left, so that the space is quiet and still. Typically, I prefer to do this prior to work, just to clear my head and reap all the benefits. Sometimes, it’s good to come back to in the evenings before bed, just to let everything go. Whatever works for your schedule will be fine.

It has taken me years to get to the point I am at now, but it is still nowhere close to the point I want to be. I have an outlandish dream of being ordained as a monk at some point in my life, and while that seems too crazy to come to fruition, I try in my everyday life to at least be a bit better at letting go. While I am not writing this as a way to get all hippie on you, I am hoping that sharing this experience will (even minutely) increase happiness in the world.

For flows from my friend J. Lowe, check out her YouTube channel or subscribe to her newsletters.

Curating Closets: Neutral Palettes

When it comes to curating my closet, practicality reigns supreme. In order to facilitate dressing up with ease, I naturally gravitate to a more neutral color palette. It isn’t to say I am above colors, for I still tote my single neon yellow summer blouse bi-weekly in the warmer months, and my favorite deep purple, velvet dress during holiday season, but I do have a tradition of choosing more subdued colors for ninety percent of the year. Frustrating past mistakes of taking home a recently purchased colored article of clothing, only to realize that it is in need of something to match it still haunt my memory. A case of needing more begets more. You may be compelled to buy yet another article of clothing, just to wear the one. Or you might do the opposite, and just never wear the new item. Possibly, you wear it still, without purchasing anything, and just revel in the total freedom that mismatching gives you. For me, versatility is key. I have curated my closet well enough to have confidence that things can liberally mix and match. And while neutrals will match with almost anything else, just keeping most things neutral makes it all the more easier, so that that neon yellow shirt does not end up atop bright pink shorts.

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My morning routines are made more efficient when I know to reach for a standard black tee. I actually have five black tees, and by Saturday, I’ve likely used them all. If I am feeling a bit adventurous, I may reach for my dark grey, or a blue and white stripe. Never have I felt comfort in a white tee, so despite the fact that they look extremely polished in the winter and cool in the summer, I cannot get myself to own one. It may sound that I have a tee too many, but they are all continually being used. I hardly reach for anything else. Tees are versatile, thanks to the perfect eighty-degree weather that is SoCal.

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Add to that my repertoire of beige cover-ups, egg-shell sweaters, and off-white jackets. I almost ran out of adjectives to describe something so vanilla. Softer hues are nice for colder days, when the moods reflect something calm and sleepy. Sweaters in gray are in full stock as well, not because I go out there and buy gray often, but because over the last ten years, that’s just the hue I seem to embrace. I have my 18 year old frame to thank for these collections.

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As far as bottoms go, I mostly grab blacks and blues. Jeans are my everyday armor, and I wear black pants to be a bit more sophisticated. I hardly stray from those colors. I think my biggest regretful purchase would be Nike athletic leggings in neon pink and atrocious purple, tie-dye fashion. While I haven’t quite gotten to de-cluttering it, because it is practical to keep workout pants, I hardly find myself wanting to wear them ever, not so practical. Keeping it for the just-in-case, something I can improve on in the near future.

Now I do have certain colors that I allow into my space at times, but to be honest, they don’t stray far from being neutral. Mostly, olive greens, and muted oranges that border closer to tan than yellow. And tawny hues find their way into my heart occasionally. For some, a minimalist wardrobe may involve a different color scheme, cloudy blues or fierce reds. For others, a minimalist wardrobe is defined by a collection of their most loved pieces, no matter how loud. To each their own.

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