Friday, July 12, 2013

De-Hermitizing: Lessons in Thoughtful Patience + Acceptance

My family has developed a habit of half-jokingly saying that I live in my room, only coming out to eat and use the bathroom. After my realization earlier, I've moved my computer downstairs (because that's the reason I was holed up in my room all the time).

I used to value my privacy and the silence of my room, but that was a trade-off for getting irritable and snapping at my nieces and nephews whenever they raised their voices "too loudly" or were annoying me in the slightest way possible.

As you can probably tell, that didn't go over very well, and after it was pointed out to me what I was doing, I've done my best to think before I lash out, and to remember that first and foremost, my nieces and nephews are wonderful people.

I try to remind myself that I should be working on accepting them as they are personality-wise, rather than trying to cram them into a pre-conceived box (unsuccessfully, I might add) of what I think kids should act like (at least around me when I'm in my bubble).

I should add that my nieces and nephews are all generally great kids, not "problem children" or what-have-you. Of course, they're not saints and are wonderfully human, I'm just pointing out that it's not really through any fault of theirs that I get annoyed. Also, I do enjoy hanging out with them when I'm not in my "zone," and just overall I love them lots; insert string of heart emoticons here.

Patience School
So now I'm in the kids' school-room (decommissioned as such for summer vacation), either working away diligently or snickering at funny pictures on Facebook. They have their own computer in there that they like to play games on and such, so I do have to grow accustomed to them talking, laughing, clicking with the mouse, and the sound effects emitted by their games.

But I've already noticed that I've gotten better at "training" myself to snap at others less, especially since making it a point to be patient and consider, "Is this truly a grating disturbance, or can I continue working/watching music videos on Youtube without letting it get to me?"

Your turn to share:
Do you have anything you're struggling at being patient with? Or do you have any advice on how to practice becoming more patient in other situations, around kids or otherwise?

Monday, July 8, 2013

A More Personal Story: Ripping It Up

Hey, everyone. This blog started out as just a place to share my time volunteering in Beijing in general--my thoughts and experiences while there. I didn't expect that much would come of it; maybe it would just be a nice way to keep folks back home informed of what I was up to.

Then some things happened that shook me up, namely that I started really questioning what value I was bringing to the world, what I would be doing with my life, what I was doing with my life now. Actually, that kind of internal questioning has been going on for a while... the last five months, and then some, as in for the last three years.

Depression and Self-worth
I grew extremely depressed during middle-school, and it's stayed with me even now, when I'm in my early 20's. Although I am doing better now in terms of coping, I still often struggle with it.

Along with my depression came questioning of my own self-worth as a person--to the point where recently, I wondered what good I was if I didn't have an income (which I don't), or was contributing to society in a meaningful way (which I don't feel I am).

Something Must Change
When I realized I felt that I wasn't worth anything good if I wasn't working and financially independent from my parents, I knew something had to change. Because I believe that everyone is worthy as a person, no matter if they're a multi-billionaire or homeless on the streets. We all  have our own stories that have made us who we are and who we will become. But what good is that belief if I can't apply it to myself?

...Even if that Change is Slow in Coming
That's not to say that I've miraculously gained amazing self-confidence and can honestly say I love myself whole-heartedly. Because that would be a lie. After realizing how deep my lack of self-worth truly runs, I feel broken open. It's a revelation for me, because I thought I was doing pretty well. I laugh with my family, I joke with my friends. I've been called witty and a good-humored person. But now I see that it's all been an act--an all-too-successful one, as I managed to fool even myself into thinking that I was okay.

I want to change. I want to become a person who feels that she's worthy of happiness and love, and furthermore who's willing to go out and look for it around her.

I read a lot of blogs about self-development and entrepreneurship, both subjects that fascinate me. But I've realized that I haven't once, in three years of reading them, applied their advice, tips and tricks to my life. What good is all the knowledge in the world if I'm too scared of potential disasters--and even potential success--to apply it?

I want to be Happy
I believe that's not such a selfish end to seek. As a struggling Christian, I want to reach Heaven and see God's face, hear Him tell me, "You did good." As a person, I want to be able to put genuine smiles on other people's faces. And as me, just myself, I want to love and accept myself for who I am, cracks and bruises and all, a work in progress. I want to not hate myself. I want to change the voice in my head that's constantly playing, like a terrible, brainwashing broken record: "You suck. Everyone hates you. What good are you?"

And I don't just want to keep it to myself. I want to be able to contribute to the world in a meaningful way--I want to be remembered for positive contributions, not forgotten immediately and remembered regretfully in passing as, for example, a girl with a lot of potential but no guts or good deeds to back it up.

I'm tired of acting happy and put-together all the time. I'm tired of being afraid of what people will think of me when I say, "I have depression," or "I feel like I've been set-back life-wise today,"--because honestly, if they're not willing to even try to see past my surface faults to the real, live, flesh-and-blood-and-heart-and-soul person that is ME, they're part of the problem I'm facing, not part of the healing process.

This blog is probably going to be less about volunteering and take a turn towards the real me... what I'm feeling, the good and the bad. How I'm coping with it (or not). My hopes, and what I'm doing to work towards making them a reality, even if it's in baby-step increments.

Because I'm tired of lying in the dirt and allowing myself to beat myself down.

I'm scared, quite honestly. I'm scared of hitting the "publish" button for this post. I'm scared that I will fail at becoming someone others can rely on and trust and love.

But I also know that I'm close to breaking. That if I don't say this now, I might never say it at all, and continue living out a pleasing (to others) masquerade.

I'm going to try.

I won't have all the answers right away.

I will have days I want to give up.

I will have days when I feel on top of the world.

And I will be learning about how to help myself grow as a person... and hopefully be able to help others as a result of that learning.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Out and About in Beijing: Thoughts

Photo by Ronnie Macdonald on Flickr, used via Creative Commons license.

I've been thinking a lot lately about my time in Beijing... rather, the time I've spent in my sister's house in Beijing, rather than out in the city proper. That time far exceeds the time spent in the city, and after talking with a good friend of mine, I realized what a great opportunity I've been missing out on. And I have no one to blame but myself and my anxieties.

What if I get lost?

What if I get pickpocketed?

What if I get mugged?

I'm scared about going out into a strange city by myself!

Total Control over Life= Illusion

All of these are legitimate fears, of course, but if I stay alert and prepared (phone with my sister's number, extra cash, etc), I think I will have done all I can about those fears. I can't control every outcome of my life. Do I want to stay huddled up indoors, scared of my own shadow, and not take a chance on an adventure?

I mean, seriously. Girl from a college town in Texas gets to go to China... not once, but twice. Doesn't learn any Chinese the first time, doesn't try to explore the city, either. The second time is a second chance. Will she bomb that chance, too?

Helpful e-book to the rescue!

So I've been reading this e-book Serena sent me the first time I came over to China. It's called The Beijing Newcomer's Guide, written by an expat who's lived over here for about two years (at the time of the writing of the book, that is). And it's incredibly helpful... it has tips on how to navigate the bus system and how to buy groceries, for instance. There are little anecdotes of the writer's experiences here as a newcomer, herself, and most helpful are the basic Chinese phrases she included.

Along with that information and good ol' common sense, I feel a lot more prepared to go out into the city, now. I'd want to take the bus or the subway, especially because it's a busy time for my family and they're fully utilizing the drivers that they hire due to Beijing's driving laws.

Know Where to Go

Now I'll want to research places I might actually want to go to. I remember learning about an English-language bookstore or library somewhere... that's definitely high on my list. I'll also want to check out events that may be going on in the future, as well. I'll keep you guys updated on what I find out!

Your Turn!
Do you have anything you're nervous about? Do you have any tips on how to forge on through that anxiety to do what you really want to do? Share in the comments.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Creative Projects I'm Digging: Games and Music

This post was originally going to be me ruminating over a couple of creative/collaborative projects I have going on at the moment... but then I thought, it's no fun to be a party of one! So I'm throwing in a few other creative projects by people who are not me into the mix. Hooray!

1. Area-X, by zeiva inc. 

I've been following these small indie game makers for a while now... since I was in high school, and very possibly even before that. I fell in love with their art style, and then I played a free game they put out. I was hooked, and I bought their game X-note later on.

It did not disappoint! An intriguing story, writing with personality, and of course great art were what I found when I played. So you can imagine how excited I was when they released their next game in that series, Area-X! I haven't bought it yet, but mark my words that it is definitely high up there on my gaming wish list. I've already heard good things about it.

If anyone's interested in a more in-depth review on X-note, and/or Area-X once I've purchased it, let me know!

2. Project Crown, by Lolita. 

This game-to-be is being worked on by a friend of mine, whom I actually met on another site when I saw her post asking for opinions on a visual novel/otome game idea she had. I sent her a message, she told me her idea, and we kept on messaging back and forth. She's already shared most of the concept art she's commissioned with me, and I have to say that not only is the art gorgeous and intriguing, but I really admire her for carrying through with this project. She's determined to make it happen, even if it may take several years to complete.

3. Princess for Tonight, by me (heh heh).

Photo by esc861 on Flickr, used via Creative Commons license.
This is a song I conceptualized a while back. I immediately REALLY wanted to see (rather, hear) it become reality, but there were two problems working against me.

One, it was written to be sung by a guy. Last time I checked, I was a girl with a very definitely girl voice.

Two, I imagined it being played on piano... and I haven't touched one in years.

For some reason, that didn't really deter me, and I ended up hunting around the internet of all places for people to collaborate with. I did end up finding a pianist and a guy singer to work with, and we're working on getting the "first draft" of the song shipped out to the masses!

It's been a fun project to work on, and a great learning experience because of all the kinks and bumps aplenty in the road.

4. Catrin Vincent, by... Catrin Vincent.

A singer/songwriter and musician, she started following me on another site I'm on, so I checked out her stuff... and when I listened to some songs of hers, I was blown away! It was not (and still is not) like anything I'd ever heard before. Give it a listen!

What about you?
Any projects of your own or from others that you're loving? Share in the comments!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Brief Rundown... Then Onwards!

Photo by jamie1701 on Flickr; used via Creative Commons license.

Okay, so I'll be the first to admit that I've been negligent in updating my poor little blog. To be honest, I've been mostly helping out in the online store, and as such was feeling that I had nothing of interest to say.

"People won't want to hear about it unless it's about babies!" I thought, since I'm not actually interacting with the children Little Flower Projects cares for, at least not that much. LFP is going through a transition period with their on-site volunteer program, and as such I'd most likely just get in the way at the moment.

A Good System

Not that I don't enjoy working in the store. It's actually really fun packing up orders to be shipped out! I like that I'm moving around (instead of hermiting myself away in my room in front of my computer), and the system that Serena and I have worked out--I pack orders, then she double-checks that I got the order correct. It works out pretty well.

On Focus

But I also haven't been focusing completely on my volunteer work. I'm doing a lot better what with managing my time and carrying out tasks now, but there's still room for improvement in that area. I was feeling like my attention was all over the place, what with volunteering, and wanting to do some of my own creative projects (writing, knitting, etc.), until I had a talk with a good friend of mine and she set me straight.

She helped me realize (whether she knows this or not) that I need to be focused and dedicated to the work that I came over here to do in the first place. Not to say that I can't have time for my own, but during the day when I'm working, I should actually be of the mind that, yes, I am doing work. Not just "helping out," but working.

Now, since making the decision to focus on my work, I'm really exited about it. Since I've decided to be more dedicated to it and to being an actual, helpful asset to my sister, I've gotten some ideas of how I could make better use of my time in that respect.

Your turn!
I'd love to hear from you; what have you been trying to focus on recently, in terms of work or your non-working life? How's that been going for you?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Social Media Sabbatical's Almost Done!

Hello everyone, how are you? My month of no social media except on weekends is almost over. I can't say I'll be sorry to see it go, but I also learned some things:

1. I can do this.
2. The world won't implode if I'm not on social media every waking moment of the day.
3. There are other things I enjoy doing outside of social media... I've been doing a little reading and playing some video games.
4. With the amount of time I used to spend on social media, I only spent a fraction of that time actually talking with my friends. The rest was just lurking and moping about being in different time zones.

Also, I've been getting into a more productive rhythm with my volunteer work. Mostly, I'm doing admin assistant-like things for Assunta Store and Little Flower Projects. Occasionally, I work out in the snap room/warehouse (aka the garage), and that's led me to realize that my mood/motivation drastically improves when I take a break from being on the computer and go out and do other things. Get some sunlight. Experience the "real world" a bit more.

Overall, things are going fairly well for me, personal and volunteer work-wise.

I do sometimes feel like I'm just talking to myself on this blog, though, so I'd like to know what you guys would like to hear more about.

I don't really go to the baby home a lot; they're trying to revamp their volunteer program over there, and as such I often feel like I'm just in the way when I go. I've talked to my sister about it and she agrees that for now it might be best to concentrate on my work with Assunta Store and other LFP needs.

And while I'm kept busy with the admin work, I also have to admit that it's not the most exciting thing to talk/write about!

So what would you like me to share more about? Also, how are you all doing? I'd like to hear more from you, too.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Whoop! Week 1 of No Social Media ACCOMPLISHED
A friend of the family braided my hair! Isn't it pretty?
Hi guys! I am back (for the weekend at least). I hope you all are wondering how my first week of being completely social media free went. Because that's what I'll be sharing with you today. Yay!

Focus on Volunteer Work 
Well, I've been keeping track of my time with the Pomodoro Technique (which remains super-helpful to me in actually getting stuff done that needs to be done). What my time-tracking tells me is that, yes, I have been able to focus a LOT more since cutting the cord to Facebook and such. And surprisingly, I haven't even missed it that much.

Yes, I do miss talking with my friends on there, but I don't feel the urge to message them EVERY TIME they log on EVERY DAY. It's extremely liberating.
A hat I crocheted to send back home to my mom.
Focus on Family
I did watch two or three movies with my family, and we hung out more than usual. On the other hand, I still spent a lot of time hermited away in my room, soooo I'd still like to improve on that area.

My 10-year-old nephew DID, however, teach me how to do a really cool stick-spinning trick that he learned in wushu class. I felt so awesome once I'd got down the basics of how to do it.

Watch out, Jackie Chan.

Focus on Camp NaNoWriMo
I tried the write-a-novel-long-hand-thing... for about three seconds. While I did manage to do some character mapping and story outlining in a notebook, I just feel more comfortable writing out the story itself on the computer in Word. While I might not feel as cool doing it that way, it gets the job done and honestly I don't freeze up as much when faced with a blank Word document as opposed to when faced with a blank notebook page. Weird. Oh well, if it works, it works.

So, How'd it Go?
I'd say the first week went pretty well work-wise, but I could definitely improve on the family and Camp NaNoWriMo aspects of my life.

So what have you been up to this week? Let me know!

Friday, March 29, 2013

30 Day Experiment: Social Media Sabbatical

Hi, everybody! I hope you've been having a great week. Today I wanted to talk about something that's been on my mind for a while.

I've been hooked up to the internet for a long time--since I was around 12. First, it was forums. Then it expanded to social media, and finally reading blogs. While I love how the internet can connect people from all parts of the world, and that's how I've met a lot of my friends, I also think that in a way it's gotten to be detrimental to me, personally.

I was watching Jonathan Field's "Good Life Project," specifically this episode.

And I stepped back and looked at myself and realized that I was one of those people that Jesse Jacobs had built his "tea oasis" for. I was distracted, unfocused, always plugged into the internet and social media. I'm on the computer a lot for my admin assistant duties for my volunteer work, and while I've gotten a lot better at managing my time and upping my productivity, I still am only half-focused on my work. The other half is checking for updates on Facebook.

So I've decided to commit to a social media sabbatical for the month of April. 30 days of no social media, except on the weekends (since, again, social media is how I talk with my friends and I don't want to completely ditch them for a month).

I've unbookmarked all my social media from my main bookmarks bar and put them into a hidden-away folder. Offline, I plan to read more books, watch more movies, play more guitar, and of course hang out with my family and work.

I'll also be attempting Camp NaNoWriMo... long-hand, in a notebook. I'm shooting for 30,000 words. We'll see how that goes.

I'll try to keep you all updated on how I'm doing when I log in on the weekends, and I'll also probably be journaling about how this all is going for me.

Wish me luck!

Do you have any projects you're attempting right now? What are they, and why? Share in the comments!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Waxing on Purpose and Ellie Goulding

So I'm a big fan of Spotify... I just tried it out about a month ago, and I wonder why I never tried it before. It is awesome, like Pandora and iTunes had a beautiful baby together.

I've been trying out different stations and genres in the Radio feature. Right now, I seem to have found a happy balance of contemporary Christian, Ellie Goulding, and Sarah Bareilles by turns.

A song popped up on my Ellie Goulding playlist called "Your Biggest Mistake." I was just casually listening to the songs as they played through, but this one caught my attention for the message it contains, at least for me. Take a listen (and a read-through of the lyrics snippet below):

It's a shame you don't know 
What you're running from
Would your bones have to break
And your lights turn off
Would it take the end of time
To hear your heart's false start? 

You know this is your biggest mistake
What a waste, what a waste, what a waste
And of all the things you never explained
You know this is your biggest mistake
--Ellie Goulding, "Your Biggest Mistake"
This song really speaks to me, because I often feel the same way about myself. I don't know what I want in life, at least not on a concrete level. I also feel like I take the good things in my life for granted a lot of the time. Would something catastrophic have to happen in my personal life for me to "wake up," for me to take advantage of my abilities and the opportunities I'm presented with?

In the past (and even now), I've felt like I've been wasting my life and potential, watching the world go by. When I was in the pit of my depression, I felt this huge despair that I would never have anything to offer or show for my life when it came to a close. Now that I am more stable mood-wise, I don't feel the same level of anxiety, but that doesn't mean it's not still there.

I think a lot about what my purpose is in my own life and others', what God put me into this world for. 

I know that thinking and praying about it is only part of the equation, though. The other half of it is putting those thoughts into motion somehow. I'll be the first to admit that I have issues with wanting to control my life and where it goes. Even though I feel like I've gotten a bit better at communicating with God and letting Him "take the wheel" in a way, I still constantly find myself fighting Him to drive my own road sometimes.

Spoiler: It hasn't really worked so far. 

Whenever I say, "Bugger off and let me do things my way for a bit, please," God finds a way to tell me, "Uh, no. Let me remind you who's really in control and has the best plan for you, here."

So back to my point, which is how I'm trying to find a good balance between thought, prayer, action, and trust. Let me know if anybody has the answer to this, because I'd love to know what it is!

Do you have any songs that speak to you on a personal level? Share in the comments!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Album B-side: Handmade Finds

Hi guys, I decided to do something a bit different today. We have our favorite books we like to read, favorite music to listen to, and favorite sites to visit. One of my favorite sites to visit is Etsy. I go on there at least several times a week and spend some time perusing the handmade goods available for sale on there, as well as the blog posts, just for fun.

Etsy is basically an online marketplace where anyone can put up things for sale that they have made by hand. Being a handcrafter, myself, I really enjoy seeing the creations that others have brought into the world and how others are receiving them through the Etsy platform. I also love the idea of directly supporting average folk like myself rather than always going to faceless chain stores. Even though my wallet doesn't really allow me to dip into the Etsy waters for personal things, I would love to be able to turn to the stores on there later when I am in need of a special gift for someone.

I figured that since I find a lot of things I like on there, I would share some of my favorites with you on here. I have to admit that I got this idea in part from my crafty photographer friend Tori Yardsley, who shows off handmade finds of her own on her blog via her Etsy Anthology series.

So without further ado, let's get this show on the road!

To Admire
Dandelion painting from LisbonStore on Etsy. $75.
Dandelion painting from LisbonStore on Etsy. $75.
Dandelions have been on my mind a lot lately, especially their supposed connection to the granting of wishes should you blow off all the fluff. The legend of these flowers brings out the daydreamer in me. They're lovely, simple, and romantic, and this painting from LisbonStore really brings out those qualities with the dream-like style and a muted color scheme that is subtly dramatic at the same time.

To Wear
Wool Felt Bow Barrette from LoftFullOfGoodies on Etsy. $12.
One shop that I count among my favorites is LoftFullOfGoodies with its adorable yet elegant felt accessories. When you combine the character of wool felt and the appeal of a simple, pretty hairbow, I'm all over that. 

To Use
Plant markers by fromArtisanHands on Etsy. 3 for $21.
Spring is coming! Besides warmer weather, it also brings about the perfect time to garden. My mom loves growing her own flowers and herbs, so even though I'm terrible at keeping plants alive, myself, when I saw these plant markers I instantly thought of her. Aren't they charming? I love the look of glazed ceramics.

I hope you enjoyed this little peek at the wonderful creations that can be found on Etsy. I encourage you to do some browsing around yourself. Maybe while you're there you'll find something that you absolutely have to have, or a gift for someone else.

Friday, March 15, 2013

My Week in Review: A Birthday and Music

Photo from seriousbri on Flickr. Used via Creative Commons license.
Hi everyone, how are you? Today I thought I'd just sum up my week really quick, since it did get better after last weekend. Here's what went down:

  1. I crocheted a saddle blanket and a feeding bowl/basket for my niece's toy horse as her birthday present. She liked them, and is now asking if I can make her a bridle, too. I was actually planning on making her one, but before her birthday I didn't know how to sneak her horse off to get the size down without her noticing.
  2. One of the cats accidentally scratched me, and now my finger might potentially be infected... it's swelled up a bit and I had to take a pain killer because it was so sore. Fortunately, the pain killer worked, as well as putting some ice on it. Also fortuitously, the cat in question's immunizations are all current, anyway.
  3. I've been playing more guitar, and I can notice that I've improved a lot. I can now switch between chords faster than I could before. I'm still stumbling and making mistakes, but not as many as I used to, which makes me happy.
  4. I've drunk a lot of coffee. Yummm, coffee. Yes, that warranted mentioning.
  5. My family and I went out to eat at a hot pot restaurant. If you like Asian food and you ever get the chance to eat hot pot-style, I highly recommend that you jump on the chance. It's fun cooking your food in your own little pot, and it's delicious as well!
  6. I went to Mass last Saturday, where I sang in the choir and went to Reconciliation. Both were good experiences for me, emotionally and spiritually.
  7. My sister and niece made some strawberry jam from the strawberries we picked on Saturday, and it is really good and sweet! We use it to spread on biscuits.
Wow,  that was a lot that happened; I guess it was a pretty eventful week. Overall, I think it was a good week, and I hope there will be many other good weeks to come during my time here.

Now, if you'll excuse me, my niece just made some strawberry smoothie. I think I hear it calling my name.

Your turn; how was your week? What did you do? Share in the comments.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Taking Back Time with the Pomodoro Technique

Photo by barbourians on Flickr. Used via Creative Commons license.
Hi everyone! You know how I've been in a slump lately? Well, part of that was not knowing how to manage my time. When I realized this, I started looking into how I could learn better time management skills.

I wanted to tell you all about a time management technique I just tried today (Monday at the time of writing this). It's called the Pomodoro Technique.

The basic goals of this technique are setting a timer for 25 minutes and doing a task for that entire amount of time. After the 25 minutes are up, you can take a 5 minute break. There's also a system for keeping track of how many "pomodoros" you've done, as well as how often you're distracted (or tempted to give in to distractions). That's the general gist of it, but you're curious to learn more, there's a free e-book available to read on the site.

I decided to give it a try; after all, I didn't have much to lose and lot to gain utilizing the technique. At best, I'd tame my tendency to get distracted by every shiny thing that came my way. At worst, I'd still be distracted by... ooh, shiny!

Starting and Finishing

I used the timer option on my trusty phone as my pomodoro timer, and I typed up my to do list in a spreadsheet--nothing fancy, mind you, just what was needed. Then, at around 9am, I picked a task to focus on for 25 minutes and hit the timer's "start" button.

I ended up noting down several... okay, four or five times I got distracted during those 25 minutes. But I managed to pull through, and I gladly took that 5 minute break. Then it was back into the fray.

25 minutes later, I took another break. Rinse and repeat until 4 pomodoros were finished. I felt like patting myself on the back and tooting my own horn as I took a glorious 15 minute break!

Pretty much the rest of the day passed like this; I stopped for lunch, of course... even my desire for motivation can't get in the way of me and food. Plus, a break was in order anyway.

Before I knew it (no, that's not actually an exaggeration), it was 4pm. I'd made it through my allotted working hours like nobody's business! I had gotten things I needed to do done, and I didn't feel like crap or like I was slowly withering away from boredom. I was focused for much of the time, and I took my deserved breaks only after every 25 minutes was up.

I feel great, guys. I feel really good about myself, and I'm soooo glad I found the Pomodoro Technique. For the first day, it worked out pretty nicely! If any of you has trouble with managing time and staying focused, I'd definitely recommend giving it a shot.

Now I can go and relax without a huge stormcloud of guilt hovering over my head. Whooo!

What have you gotten done lately that you're proud of doing, or are at least glad to have gotten out of the way? Share in the comments.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Notice Something Different?

Just a quick update! I changed up the blog layout design... a lot. I personally think that this is much cleaner and easier to read. Not to mention just plain prettier, period.

I want to give kudos to Katrina over at Pugly Pixel for providing the free template, Strawberry Shortcake, that I ended up using and modifying to get the look you see right now. Her site is simple and attractive and full of pretty posts to browse through. I suggest you give it a look-see.

Just for comparison:

Old blog design:

Unedited Strawberry Shortcake template:

New and improved finished product!

Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

What about you? Got any recent accomplishments you want to share, or a resource you want to recommend?

One Step at a Time

In case you're wondering about how volunteer work is going for me, well... I'll admit that I've kind of gotten into a slump. It's gotten a bit better as I'm more motivated to do things of my own, and that motivation has overflown a bit into my volunteer work as well. But I'm honestly not doing the level of work that I'd like to. I don't feel like I'm contributing that much to my sister or LFP.

My strategy last time was to let the depression and guilt consume me and basically hermit myself away in my room, only coming out to eat and use the restroom, pretty much. This time, I know what I have to do to not fall into that same rut again. So far it's working, at least a little.

I'm hanging out with my family more often, even if I don't feel like it initially. Being around them does cheer me up and break me out of that "fog".

I'm doing some work every day, even if it's not as much as I'd like. As long as I get around to doing anything at all in that respect, that's what matters right now to me. Not giving in.

My niece's and nephew's birthdays are coming up soon, so I'm also preparing their birthday presents. Well, for my niece, anyway; my nephew's present is already taken care of.

I've also been playing some guitar, and I can tell that I've improved a little, which does help my self-esteem/mood.

I haven't been going out to see the babies in the baby home as often, which is another blow to my so-called volunteer work. When I do, though, I am always amazed and it warms my heart to see what Serena and Brent have worked so hard to build. The children are so loved and happy and well cared for... it's something that you really have to see to get the full effect of, I think. When I see that, when I hold a baby and know that they wouldn't get this kind of love or care were it not for people like Brent and Serena, it bolsters my resolve to help, to do something to contribute to LFP's mission.

Then I go home and fall back into my slump. Or so it seems.

For right now, I don't have the answer to what's going on with me. I don't have the knowledge of a miracle cure, and frankly I'm not sure if there is one. All I know at the moment is that continuing to move forward, putting one foot in front of the other step by step, is better than sitting there too paralyzed to move an inch.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Hobbits and Strawberries

Fun Picking Berries...

Hello, everyone! It's a very windy day here in Beijing, as in dust-storm level. We went picking strawberries today and just walking to the greenhouse from the van was a battle against nature!

Fortunately, we won.

After getting out of the wind, we had fun picking all of the juicy red berries we could find. We almost couldn't wait until we got home to eat them, but fortunately our willpower remained strong, because of the potential pesticides and such that might have been used on the berries.

Upon arriving back at the house, it was a race to the kitchen to wash off a few berries and finally eat them. Seriously, they smelled so good coming back, and they did not disappoint. They were really sweet, and we picked a lot so there are more where that came from!

I see many strawberry smoothies in the future. And strawberry shortcake. And strawberry jam? Strawberry everything! Good thing it's one of my favorite flavors, next to chocolate, of course.

...And Going to the Movies!

Yesterday I went to see The Hobbit with my niece and nephew. Traffic was terrible, and we got there too late to go to the showing we were intending to see, so we bought tickets for a later showing and grabbed lunch first.

We ate at a small cafe in the mall called Hercules Cafe (or something like that). I ordered sushi and a caramel latte. The sushi was actually pretty good for a non-seafood-oriented place... or maybe I was just hungry. Probably both. The caramel latte was good, too; I'm glad, because one of my favorite beverages is an iced caramel macchiato. Yummm just thinking about it is making me crave one!

My niece and nephew weren't as enthusiastic about the movie as I was; their favorite Lord of the Rings movie remains Return of the King. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and they did enjoy The Hobbit. Oh well, they liked the last two movies I recommended to them, at least (The Emperor's New Groove and Rise of the Guardians).

What's something fun that you've been up to lately? Share in the comments!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

An Update! Sorry for the Wait
Fireworks! Photo taken by my sister Serena. Please don't use without permission.
Hi, everyone! To be honest, I haven't felt like writing this blog much since I got here. I've been feeling myself slipping a bit back into that depressed rut I was in last time I was here... not as bad, thank goodness, but enough for me to notice. Fortunately, I've got work to do for the nonprofit and my family to hang out with, so that's been keeping me from sinking totally into a state of, "I want to do nothing but blob about today."

I've been feeling like I haven't been doing anything particularly blog-worthy or exciting. But I have to remind myself that I'm in China doing volunteer work with an amazing nonprofit. Living with my family, who I love a lot. What's not exciting about that, really?

Sometimes I guess I take for granted what's right in front of me that I'm so fortunate to have been given.

Some things that I've been up to since I got here:

  1. I went to see a short play.
  2. I've eaten out at several excellent restaurants. Yum!
  3. I've started living with a very sweet cat in my room. She feels safe here and it's better than keeping her in the bathroom all the time, because she hates the other cats and hides from them wherever she can.
  4. I saw a spectacular fireworks show during Chinese New Year. My ears were ringing by the end of it. Seriously, some of those fireworks lit up the sky so brightly it could've been daytime.
  5. I've been working in my sister's online store, and also I've been organizing photos for Little Flower Projects.
  6. I've been watching movies (most recent: The Princess Bride) and playing games (namely Just Dance) with my family.
So I guess I've been up to more than I thought! Funny how I didn't really realize that until I wrote it all down.

I can't promise regular, clockwork-like updates, but I will do my best to post whenever I have something to share... and maybe even sometimes when I don't. So, I guess stay tuned!

It's been a while since I've posted, and also since I've heard from you all. What have you been up to?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

First Baby Photo! (It's a Cute One!)

Very cute baby right here!
Me with a very cute baby! Photo taken by my sister Serena.
I went to the baby home for Little Flower Projects this Wednesday, and my sister snapped this shot of me holding a little baby boy on my lap. I had all these warm fuzzy maternal feelings the whole time I held him. What's really gratifying is that he was crying, but then he stopped and was happy when I picked him up! How awesome is that?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Hello from China!

Hi guys! I'm blogging at you from Beijing--I'm finally here! Surprisingly enough, jetlag hasn't been kicking me in the rear end like last time I came over here. In fact, I've been able to get by with only one hour-long nap a day... and yesterday, no nap at all. Yay!

A Beautiful Send-off
I was sent off in a beautiful way by the other women I met on the ACTS retreat I mentioned earlier. They snuck out to my house at night when I was asleep and stuck signs with wonderful send-off messages in my front yard for me to see when I woke up the next morning. If any of you are reading this, thank you thank you thank you! It made me smile so much and really warmed my heart.

Family Time!
I've been spending a lot of time with my family over here while getting over jetlag... even if I haven't been napping much, I've still been feeling the effects of it from time to time. I've been playing games with them (they have a Wii, guys), as well as playing guitar with my oldest niece and just having fun goofing around.

Working Woman
My sister Serena and I sat down yesterday and started working on some things related to Little Flower Projects and Assunta Store together. It felt really good to be able to help out. Even if I haven't quite been here a week, I was beginning to go a little stir-crazy, wondering when the jetlag was going to leave so I could start working.

I actually plan to start on a project for the store after I finish this blog post. Well, first I'm going to call home, and then I'll start the project.

I'm so happy to finally be here and starting to do some work. This is just a quick update from me--I'm signing off for now, but I'll most likely have something else to blog about soon!

Could you share a recent happy moment of yours, as well? I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Thursday is Launch Day!

Hi guys! Just thought I'd pop on here real quick and let you all know some super-exciting news:

I'm leaving for China on Thursday!

I actually went on an ACTS retreat this past weekend (if you ever have the chance to go on one, you should, I had such an amazing experience). When I got home and my parents picked me up, they pretty much went, "Welcome back! Guess what, you're leaving on Thursday!"

I still can't quite believe it. It was so sudden. But I'm really looking forward to this experience. Well, maybe not going through airport security and running from gate to gate. After that, though... that's the part I'm looking forward to.

So, keep your eyes peeled for more updates from me, but this time from CHINA! Yay! You might have to give me some time to get over jetlag first, though. 

What's something that's cheered you up lately, or that you're looking forward to? Share in the comments!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Packing for China: Luggage and Carry-on

Suitcase by Lasse C on Flickr, via Creative Commons
Hi, guys! So after a bit of e-mailing back and forth between myself, my sister, and the visa processing center, my visa is finally on its way to being approved and my passport should be back in my hands by Thursday. Yay! After that, I'll try to get a ticket to China as soon as possible. I'm so excited... and going a little stir crazy, to be honest. I'm impatient to be there and volunteering already!

I thought that for today's post I could go over a bit of what packing for China entails, at least for me.

The Luggage

I'll be bringing one large duffle bag for my clothes and such, and most likely another duffle full of things for my sister that she can't easily get in China. Last time I went there, I ended up packing more clothes than I really needed... filling up two duffles instead of just one. So for this trip, I'm making sure to pack only what I'm sure I'm going to wear regularly.

Since I'm headed there during the winter, when the temperature in Beijing is hitting single digits, important things I'll be packing (besides my staple t-shirts and jeans, underwear and socks, and a few nicer outfits) will be:
  1. Winter coat.
  2. 2 pairs thermal underwear.
  3. Sweatshirts and sweaters.
I get cold easily, so I'll definitely be piling on the layers, methinks! I'll also be stocking up on waterproof earplugs, since my ears get infected nearly 99% of the time if they get water in them. I use the earplugs in the shower, since I'm not a big swimmer. 

The Carry-on

My carry-on will be a backpack. I will be packing all of my important things that I do NOT want to lose in there, mainly electronics and my wallet, since it's a bad idea to pack valuables in your main luggage. It's also a bad idea to pack things that are going to make your carry-on heavier than you can manage running to and fro from gate to gate as they change your flight around (which they might, and most likely will. Ask me how I know this). 

Since it's a 13 hour flight from here to Beijing, I'll also want some entertainment that will help cut down the hours.

Into the carry-on will go:
  1. Laptop and charger, which will make up most of the weight.
  2. A couple of books.
  3. My Nintendo DS (fully charged) and a couple of games.
  4. My wallet.
  5. My medication.
Also, the seats in economy cabins are REALLY unergonomic. That means if you need special support for your back or hips, invest in a special cushion. Really. You will thank me for this advice once you take it and spend 13 hours on a plane in those seats. You CAN get up and stand in the back of the plane for a bit (in fact it's encouraged you do so to help your circulation and such), but a cushion will really help.

Special Packing Tip

If you're not sure you can get it in China, buy it before you go! You do not want to get there and find out that you can't get something you need or use regularly. For me, it's my waterproof earplugs. I'm sure they must make them in China... but if I end up being wrong, that would be bad. SO. I'm stocking up just in case.

If you take prescription medication, like I do, you might want to stock up on that too. Warning, though, it will cost a LOT more to get your meds prescribed for a year's time instead of just a month or so.

What I'll be doing, since I'm still covered by my parents' insurance, will be to (hopefully) get my medication from a hospital in Beijing that the insurance is accepted in. If this works, it will drastically cut down on the cost.

The End (?)

That's pretty much all I have to say on the subject of packing for the nonce. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me and I'll do my best to answer.

Do you have any packing advice, or an interesting/fun travel story? Share in the comments!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Owning my Anxiety: A Small Victory

Stijlfoto on Flickr, via Creative Commons license.
Today I just wanted to share a little about a recent experience of mine. You might have read my earlier post about my depression; anxiety is also something that I struggle with, and have been struggling with since I was a teenager.

I approached a woman a few months ago about helping her with a project that she'd already been doing that really spoke to my heart. At first, I was raring to go, truly excited and on fire for the potential the project had.

Then I got anxious about a task of mine that I had taken upon myself to do. It was a small task, but for some reason it loomed larger and larger in my mind until it wasn't a simple task, it was a burden.

And I let that anxious feeling get the best of me.

Basically, I dropped off this woman's radar for a couple of months. I thought about that project, worried about it, hemmed and hawed over it.

Finally, I just got tired of being so anxious. I thought, "This anxiety is unreasonable, and I know it. And holding on to it is so not worth what it would feel like if I just at least tried to do this task that is, after all, not that scary in reality."

So I didn't let myself think about it anymore. Because I have a tendency to overthink everything, as was true in this case. I just opened the file I was supposed to look at. And I got to work.

It felt great.

I was focused, I had a purpose. Not 5 minutes into the task, I wondered why I had been so scared of tackling it in the first place. I finished it in about an hour, and then I e-mailed the woman I had been working with.

In that e-mail, I owned my anxiety.

Not that it was easy. It was not. I felt shame and remorse not only about leaving the woman hanging for so long, but also about my anxiety and depression. But I decided to 'fess up anyway. I did not make any excuses. I did not try to sugar-coat things... basically, I did my best to apologize sincerely.

And I told her the truth.

I just sent that e-mail, but already I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I realize that I'd been hanging on to my anxiety, in a way. I had become complacent with my anxiety, feeling that it was better to know this constant burden rather than strive into unknown territory to try and right it.

I'm not saying that now I know how it will be next time and I can definitely overcome the anxiety when it strikes next. Because I've lived with this long enough to know that such things are not at all a guarantee when it comes to this.

Still, now I have this feeling of renewal from being truthful and honoring the disservice I did to the woman in dropping off her radar without an explanation.

No matter how it turns out now, I know I did my best and I was sincere.

What about you? I'd love to hear about a recent victory of yours, however small or large.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Visa Update & Current Favorite Songs

Visa Update

Hi, guys! I'm just letting you know how things are going. My visa application got to the processing place fine (according to the tracking system on the USPS site), so I will hopefully be hearing from them about how long I can stay in China soon. Sooo it's been pretty quiet around here.

I did get some packing done, and sorted through my boxes of stuff that were in the attic. I ended up taking most of it to the thrift store, where hopefully it will be reincarnated to a better life (or something).

Current Favorite Songs

I also thought that, for fun, I'd share with you a few of my favorite songs of the moment!

First up: Ellie Goulding's "Anything Could Happen." I first heard of her through her song "Lights," liked the style, and looked up some of her other music. So far I haven't heard anything beyond those two songs and "Only You," but I have to say I like what I hear. Here are two videos: the music video for "Anything Could Happen" and also a cool freerunning video set to "Lights."

Next is a beautiful song from an anime that I recently finished watching called Hakuouki. The song is "A True Love Tale," from the ending of a special episode made for the series. It's in Japanese, but even if you don't know the meaning behind the words, it gets across to you anyway. I love that about music.

And last but not least, Lindsey Stirling. She's an amazing violinist... it's apparent that she truly enjoys playing music, and I admire that. I particularly love this video and song put together of hers of a time that she spent in Kenya.

Your turn! What is a favorite song of yours, and why? Share in the comments.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Depressed Volunteer Abroad: My Story

Okay, so today is a day to be honest: my last time volunteering in China wasn't all bouncing babies on my knee while laughing amongst rainbows and flowers. I got hit with depression big time, which I strongly suspect was connected to my having gone on birth control to help regulate my hormones (obviously if that's true, that didn't work).

I was able to learn the basics of what I needed to help out somewhat in my volunteer duties...  but the last 3-4 months of the entire year were the hardest, and I basically just holed myself away in my room, only coming out to eat and use the bathroom. I was miserable, sometimes crying, not understanding why I felt this way and why I was so anxious about doing any kind of work or interaction with others.

I got home and quit the birth control around the same time (I stayed on my medication that I already took for depression, though, which I've been diagnosed with since I was a teenager). My mood/motivation improved gradually over the following months. I noticed, my parents (whom I live with) noticed. My sister and brother-in-law, meanwhile, really needed help with the nonprofit, and for some reason they asked my parents how I was doing, and the response was positive.

So they asked me to come back and help them. I was so excited, and also just really happy... I had been feeling like a complete and utter failure up until then. I still do, in a way; an experience and mindset like that doesn't go away overnight.

I won't lie, I'm nervous about the possibility of that happening again once I go back. But on the other hand, I feel like this time will be different. I feel like I've learned from what happened before, and come back stronger and better prepared about what to do should that happen again.

I'm sharing this because I feel it needs to be shared. My hope is for others who may have experienced something similar to read it and know that they are not alone.

What has been a learning experience for you? It can be as big or small as you're comfortable sharing.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How to Apply for a Chinese Tourist Visa

blmurch on Flickr, used via Creative Commons license
Hi, everyone, I just sent off my visa application today! Whooo! I should be hearing back from the visa center within 3-4 days on how long/often I get to stay in Beijing, if all goes well. I thought you all might find it interesting/relevant to get a quick run-down on how to apply for a tourist visa for China these days. Note that this is from the perspective of someone who lives in the USA.

What is a Visa?
According to a Google search, one definition of a visa is:
An endorsement on a passport indicating that the holder is allowed to enter, leave, or stay for a specified period of time in a country.
To my knowledge, you can apply for a 30, 60, or 90-day visa. This means that you can stay in a country for that set amount of time.

So if you're in China on a 90-day visa (which is what I hope to get), you are legally allowed to stay in the country for 90 days. At the end of 90 days, if you want to continue staying in the country, you must leave the country, get your passport stamped saying that you've left, and then re-enter the country and get your passport stamped upon re-entry.

The last time I stayed in Beijing, I was on a 90-day visa. A common method of leaving and reentering China, which is the one I took, was taking a train to Hong Kong and back. The total length of time to get to Hong Kong and back to Beijing was around 24 hours, give or take.

90-day visas are ideal since that means if you're staying in a country for a year, like I plan to, you'll only have to leave and re-enter 3-4 times, as opposed to more often. And trains aren't that comfortable, especially if you're stuck in a compartment with a family whose young daughter is singing along, very loudly, to "I Just Can't Wait to be King" over... and over... and over... Ask me how I know this.

How Do You Apply?

A few things have changed about the visa process from the last time I applied (which was a little over a year ago). This time around, my sister and brother-in-law had to write up an invitation letter basically inviting me into China. If you don't have someone inviting you into a country, you must provide a copy of your round-trip airline ticket and hotel reservation.

Then you fill out the visa application and the order form for the visa. You can choose to get the application processed at the regular speed, which is 3-4 days, or pay extra to get it processed faster. You also need a small passport-style color photo of whoever the visa is for; I got mine taken at a CVS drugstore. 2 of these passport photos cost around $5.

Since I had already filled out the visa paperwork last time I went to China, my sister just re-did it for me and sent it to me to look over. I then signed the visa application, took the invitation letter and the visa order form (which my sister sent to me) and mailed those, along with my passport, to the visa application center.

Oh, and an important thing to remember is to send it all through Certified Mail. Basically with Certified Mail you can check on the US Postal Service site and track the mail you sent... it's an added form of security. Certified Mail ships at the rate of whatever shipping service you choose; I chose to send it Priority.

Now it's Waiting Time...

That was just a brief, informal explanation of the visa application process. In my experience, it's been pretty smooth and uneventful, which is a good thing! Hopefully this time around it will be the same way. I'm estimating it will take a  little over a week for everything to get done and my passport to be sent back; but if it's more, I won't be surprised.

I hope you all found that informative! If you have any questions about this that I didn't address, please feel free to ask me.

Did I omit something important? Do you have a question about this, or something to add from a different perspective? Share in the comments!

If this doesn't apply to you, well then; I told you about the singing kid on the train. Do you have any travel stories that are only funny in hindsight, or to people who weren't there with you?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Beijing Bound! Pre-Volunteering

Hi, everyone! This is my first post for this blog that will be dedicated to my year doing volunteer work in Beijing, China. I'll be volunteering with the nonprofit Little Flower Projects; they do wonderful work with babies and children, so please check them out.

Really Quick Background:

My sister Serena co-runs the charity with my brother-in-law (aka her husband). I've actually gone to volunteer with them once before, from August '11-May '12 (I'll go into more detail about how that went in a future post). They asked me to come back to help out just this Christmas... no really, literally on Christmas Day, I opened my e-mail to see a message from them. I won't lie, I kind of jumped out of my chair with excitement!

A Week (and a few days) Later...

They've now sent me all the paperwork I need to send in to apply for a visa. I'll be busy today working on sorting out things to pack and other things to get rid of so they're not clogging up my parents' house while I'm away. I might not be able to get to the post office today, so sending that stuff out might have to wait until Monday. Fun fact about me? I hate waiting.

Goals for the Year

Hey, it's the New Year, so I should be setting goals anyway, right? So, here are a couple of goals I'll be setting for myself during my time volunteering.

  1. Learn Chinese! I want to be able to carry out a conversation and be able to make it on my own around the city.
  2. Visit more places around Beijing. Like restaurants, and events such as plays. Mmm, food and entertainment. I can dig that.
This list may or may not change in the future, who knows?

Stay Tuned...

This was just meant to be a quick introductory post of sorts. I'll be making more posts later on about my previous volunteer experience, preparations for the flight over there, and of course be documenting my time there in general, volunteering and otherwise. I'll be putting up a page soon about what you can expect to see on this blog on a regular basis once I get over there. 

Have you ever volunteered, abroad or otherwise? Where did you volunteer and what was it like? Share in the comments!