Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Story Of My Life

I love biographies. I have always much preferred them to works of fiction, in fact, I find a lot of fiction terribly hard to read. It doesn’t matter what kind of outlandish scenarios the author has come up with – if it isn’t based in some kind of reality, I lose patience pretty quickly. But biographies. I get sucked in. The more recent, the better – if I can get my hands on a book about someone who is still alive, I might finish it in one sitting.
Even better if it was written by the person themselves. Example – The Dirt by Mötley Crüe. Written by the guys in the band, and their lives and careers were insane! Read it in one night (I mean one night – started it in the afternoon and finished it by morning. Couldn’t put it down).

I loved “Yes, Please” by Amy Poehler and “Bossypants” by Tina Fey (then again, either of them could come out with a line of laundry soaps and I would, realistically, find it genius).

Right now, I’ve got my eye on “Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen and “Believe Me” by Eddie Izzard. I love a good memoir, but every time I start one, and the author talks about their childhood and youth, I always wonder how the hell they remember everything?

If I was to write a book about my life, it would a) probably be a thin one and b) not very interesting at that. It would be more like a short user manual – “How To Feed and Care for a Dork’, by Maja With a J. I wouldn't know where to start!

I remember things from my childhood but not a ton of interesting stories. It was a regular childhood, I suppose. Regular childhoods seldom lead to fascinating lives, it seems. I can’t think of a specific story or event that “shaped me” or “made me become the person I am today”. Although, I suppose, everything that happens to you does in one way or another.

When I think of my childhood, it’s always summer. My mom was a teacher so she had the summer off and we usually spent most of it at our family’s cabin in the archipelago not far from Stockholm (where I was born and raised). My maternal grandparents owned the cabin, but next to it was a meadow or field, and on the other side of that field was a cabin that was owned by my paternal grandparents – still is owned by my last surviving grandma, myself, my sister and my uncle. I think this must have been where my parents met, but they never told me much about their early years as a couple. I don’t know why. Maybe they didn’t remember either?
We usually stayed at Mormor & Morfar’s (maternal grandma and grandpa) place. It was slightly bigger and had a small secondary cabin as well. The smaller cabin used to be the only cabin, until they build the “big cabin” the same year I was born.

Look at the things it turns out I know and remember!

There were lots of kids in the area and I remember playing with Sandra (who still comes there with her mom), Sarah, and Jeanette, who was a bit older than I and mostly concerned with her appearance and having a boyfriend. There was also Christina, whom I still keep in touch with on Facebook. I don’t know what the hell we did all day, though. Hang out in the woods? Yeah, we did that. Go swimming? Yep, did that a lot. We rode our bikes and went to see the horses at a small ranch nearby. I don’t remember the name of the guy who owned the horses, but they were named Tara, Nova, and Melinda. Sometimes they were in their barn and sometimes they were outside in the meadow, which had an electrical fence around it and I was obsessed with touching it.

(That part may explain a lot, actually.)

So I guess I remember some things. I guess that if I ever were to write a book about myself, that’s where I would begin. The summers in Rörvik with my grandparents and my mom and dad, and the rest of my family. I guess if I thought long and hard, I could come up with some stories about what happened there, maybe even something that had a great impact on me or explains me.

That’s where I would start.

- Maja (With a J)

Little Maja picking some flowers by the Big Cabin

Friday, May 26, 2017

Attending Events When You Have Social Anxiety - Some Tips To Maybe Make It Easier.

A few times a year, I go to events arranged by Sweet Adelines International, the women's singing organization that I have been a member of for ten years. They are educational events, competitions, etc. and they are always fun, always busy, and always a little bit of a struggle for me because they are also social events. You meet lots of people and that's great - but for someone like me, the idea of constantly being around people, being social and carrying on conversations with a lot of people you don't really know can be quite overwhelming and that is often of I feel when I go to these things - overwhelmed.

I love going - it's always fun and I always learn new things and have great experiences, but I have had to learn to manage my time and myself when I am there, so that I can actually enjoy it and not feel out of place or like I want to go hide all the time.

I know I am not the only one who has this type of issue, so here are some tips that I hope can help you the next time you go to a conference, business trip, or even just a vacation with friends. Any place that might be a bit "peopley" and you might feel a bit uncomfortable.

1) Social anxiety is often misunderstood and not taken seriously as a real thing. If you don't constantly talk to people, and you don't always participate in conversations because you are more comfortable just listening and observing, you may be thought of as "rude" or "boring" or even "full of yourself" or "snooty".

You will get comments like "YOU DON'T TALK MUCH, DO YA", and "ARE WE BORING YOU?", and the first thing you have to learn is that this is not personal. It'll feel like it, but it isn't. Not really. People get uncomfortable when you don't talk, and the reason is usually the fact that you aren't stroking their ego. You do not have to talk just to make someone else feel comfortable. You worry about yourself feeling comfortable, and if you aren't, it's OK for you to get up and leave. You are under no obligation to entertain others, and if someone comments on your quietness, just agree. My favorite reply lately when someone informs me that I don't talk much is "I know, isn't it nice?".

2) FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out - can really interfere with your need for alone time. You'll be up in your hotel room, pretty tired, really quite ready to call it a night, but you know there is a big closing party going on downstairs! You know there are people there that you would want to meet. You know there are people down there that you know and want to say hello to. You know that right now, FUN THINGS ARE HAPPENING AND YOU WANT TO BE PART OF THEM.

So you put your shoes back on and head to the elevators. And when you get downstairs, you immediately regret your decision. Turns out, you don't know anyone, really. You make your way through the crowd, say hi to a few people, maybe try to join a little circle of people and chat, but then you find yourself by the wall, in a situation that COULD be great, if Peoplewatching was socially acceptable at parties. But it isn't. You can't just sit in a corner and look at people interacting. People find this extremely offensive! Some may even feel sorry for you and will try to rescue you. But mostly you will annoy people with your unwillingness to participate in meaningless talk.

Make sure you go with someone who is also an observer. Do NOT attend these parties with your friend The Social Butterfly Who Knows Everyone - you will be left behind and feel lonely and weird. Go with a small group of people who have decided to attend together - that way, you won't feel left out - you can talk to each other.

Most importantly, learn to be comfortable not going, or only going very briefly. I usually come down and just circle the room once - if I run into someone I know and there is good conversation - great! If not, I circle back all the way to the exit and leave! I still worry that I might miss something and that everyone will forget about me, but I am more concerned with my own comfort level at this point.

3) Have your own space to retreat to. If you can afford a single hotel room, that's really the best. A space that is just yours, where you can go and have much needed quiet time. Again, people may not understand why you don't want to have a roommate, but for many of us, this is really important. I always try to get my own room - it is necessary for my sanity. However, sometimes circumstance prevents us from having our own private space, and you have to share. It's doesn't have to be the end of the world. Find the person who is like you. Who likes it quiet. Who doesn't want the party to be in your room. Who maybe likes to go to bed early. Make sure your roommate is the independent type - someone who can manage themselves, who doesn't need to be woken up in the morning, someone who doesn't need to do everything together. It may seem like these things go without saying for grown-ups, but you'd be surprised at how many grown-ass women I have met over the years who are incapable of just waking the hell up in the morning without assistance. I can't do that. I can't be responsible for getting someone else going in the morning, and these days, if I am in a room-sharing situation, I make sure I tell them that, and that we agree that we're each just going to do our own thing. Most people are willing to respect your space if you just say that that is what you need, and it may turn out that they are the same, and then you'll likely have a wonderful co-existence in the room!

The most important thing is to accept yourself the way you are and realise that you do not owe anyone your company or conversation. It's great when other people accept you too, but that doesn't always happen, and you have to learn to be OK with that. This can take some time! You don't want to feel left out, and you certainly don't want people to think you're rude! Just remember that other people's perception of you does NOT define who you are - you do! And you are the quiet type. You are the type who likes to be by yourself, or being the observer in a group of people. Own it and enjoy it. One day, we will take over the world! Quietly, from our own rooms.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Maja With a J in: Awkward, With an A - Illustrated by Maja...with a J.

I think pretty much everyone I know has anxiety in some form. In fact, I think having anxiety has become the new normal. Every time I read an article that supposedly explains what it's like to live with anxiety, all I can think is "this is completely normal and everyone deals with this". Reading about it almost annoys me now, because all these articles seem to be asking me to treat someone with extra care just because they suffer from something that is a regular part of my - and, seemingly, everyone else's life too.

I have had anxiety since childhood, and so have you. I'm not sure who to blame for this, but I'm pretty sure it can be tied to pop culture and reality TV because I can't cut and edit my life and only keep the good parts. I don't know. I'm not here to solve anxiety. I just want to write, K?

At the beginning of 2017, I wrote a list of things I want to accomplish this year. I do it every year. I usually accomplish nothing. I am quite lazy, you see, and when it comes to learning to do something new, I am impatient and I usually lose interest pretty quickly if something is hard and I don't see results instantaneously.
One of the things I said I was going to do this year was learning to draw, learn to be creative with a pen and paper and maybe create a cartoon or something (I am never too detailed in my quest to learn new things, maybe that's my problem). I bought a sketch pad and a bunch of colour pencils and also a bunch of Sharpies in different colours because, honestly, who doesn't want a whole bunch of Sharpies in different colours?

I started drawing and as expected, I suck at it. But I decided I was going to learn to draw one thing - myself. A simple, cartoon version of myself. Here I am:

The resemblance is uncanny

I think I have tied my story together enough - I have anxiety like everyone else and I am learning to draw. What follows is a story of something that happened back in October of last year, and that still haunts me to this day but am I going to just ask and get it over with, no.

Was it serious? No. But that means nothing.

I meet a lot of people through my involvement in Sweet Adelines International, a singing organization for women. I am also friends with a lot of people from the organization on Facebook, without actually having met them in real life (or, IRL, as the kids say. Do the kids still say that?). Sometimes, I don't know if I have met someone or not, they add me because we have friends in common. I rarely send friend requests...because of aforementioned anxiety. That just opens up a whole new can of overthinking and we don't want that, do we?

Facebook informed me that it was This Guy's birthday. This Guy, whom I believe I have never met, is the husband of This Girl, who I have met and she is quite rad. Therefore, This Guy must also be quite rad. I don't know who friend requested who. Anyway - ping from Facebook says it's his birthday, so...

Yes, I have advanced to colour, isn't it fancy?

Feeling pretty good about myself here. Just a casual birthday greeting and a little joke about never actually having met IRL. No danger here. Except...

Believe it or not, I am not sponsored by Samsung.

Oh. F*ck.

Commence brain fry sequence.

We must have met at some SAI event. That is the only logical place. But which one? At regional? International? Was it at RES? IES? AHA? So many abbreviations and I can't remember ONE GUY? Think, Maja...THINK!!!

You can really see the terror in my eyes in this one.

I could have just asked. I could have said "really? when?" and that would have been it, but did I? NOPE. And to this day, I don't know.

Is that a dog or a cat?

There is no conclusion to this story. We'll just have to wait and see how this riveting adventure unfolds.

Bye!

I find no comfort in knowing that pretty much everyone lies awake at night thinking about every stupid thing they have every said. Maybe because I assume I say more stupid shit than the average person.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Bullet Journal Project

I can't remember how I came across the concept of the Bullet Journal - it was recent, and it was random, I know that. It may have been a Pinterest pin or a post on Facebook, I don't know, but I immediately Googled it to find out more. Once I did, I knew that I had to go buy myself a new notebook and get started, because a)I love buying new notebooks and I always carry a notebook, and b)I need a new and better system for keeping myself organized.

From bulletjournal.com (yes, the bullet journal has its own website): "The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above. It will teach you to do more with less."

You probably haven't seen my most recent notebook. Until just now.

Look at that mess. The state of those pages. Victims of a leaky water bottle that went rogue in my bag. A random book title on one page. A weird to-do list. A vocal warmup. No order.

I like working off of lists. I like to have a list of things to do, and checking them off as I go. Makes me feel like I am accomplishing things. And this notebook was just that - notes and lists. But if I want to get more productive, and more organized, there has to be a system in place, and it seems that the bullet journal might be that system.

If you look up bullet journals on Pinterest (I don't recommend it), you'll see that there is a whole culture surrounding bullet journals. People treat them like a damn craft project. I decided that if I want this to actually work and be something I could stick with, I need to keep it very simple. No decorations, no washi tape (seriously, look up washi tape. Google "bullet journal washi tape", and get sucked into a wormhole of Arts and Crafts).

What fresh hell is this?

I just need to get organized. I need a tidy place for my to-do lists, a system for categorizing the things I need to get done, and a way to cross things off as I complete them.

You can buy notebooks that are specifically designed to be bullet journals. I looked, but none of them are spiral notepads and that is an important feature, in my opinion. You can get whatever notebook you want. I got a 3 dollar one at Walmart, with a cute fox on it.

Things don't need to enter your bullet journal in chronological order, but whatever goes in it, you create yourself (unless you buy one of the premade ones). You start by making an index page, so you can find everything once your book starts to fill up.

You make a "future log", where you just write down future things and events as you find out about them. You make a page for the next month and write down the things that are happening that month and the things you need to get to complete or accomplish.

You then make your own calendar, where every day of the month has its own portion of a page, and that's where you put your to-do lists, etc, with a little square next to them to fill in when you have done it. You can also write down things that happened that day that were not part of your to-do list (don't stress about this, fellow anxiety bunnies, unexpected things occur, and you will deal).

You can make any kind of list in your bullet journal - books to read, crime documentaries to watch, songs to learn, etc - just add any new list or post to your index page so you know where they are.

It's been about a week, and I am, officially, a fan of the bullet journal. I might get some different colour pens to brighten things a little, but I do not have a need to make it it into a an art project. I think it would really defeat the purpose for me if I tried too hard to make it look pretty - it just needs to do its job, and so far, it really has been. And so have I. I have been quite productive this week and gotten pretty much everything done that I was supposed to. Save a thing or two, but it's only Thursday night, and you can still procrastinate with a bullet journal, but eventually, you're going to want to fill in that square.

Look at the cute fox.
Look at it.
And the neatness of my to-do's.

I found a great blog called The Lazy Genius Collective, that had a post about how to set up your bullet journal while keeping it as simple as possible - it was a great help to me, and if you are interested in starting your own bullet journal project, you oughta check it out.

Peace.

-M.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Recipe Post - Cheezy Quinoa Burritos and Warm Nacho Dip (Vegan).

For quite some time now, I have been leaning more and more toward a vegan diet - long story short, I notice a HUGE difference in how I feel when I avoid animal products. Not just physically, although there are definitely physical health benefits, but it seems my mental clarity is affected by eating meat and dairy. Perhaps it's just in my mind, but I don't care - I feel better, I am enjoying feeling better, therefore, I will continue down this path.

No doctor told me to do this to help with aching joints, swollen hands, and brain fog - I decided to try it, and had I never tried it, I would never have known. We all make choices.

I enjoy knowing that my meal did not cause any suffering to an animal. I have not always been someone who cared about compassion for animals, but now I am. Deal with it.

My husband is not a vegan or even vegetarian, but as we live in the same house and eat our meals together, we eat the same things. And if I'm cooking, chances are that the meal will be plant-based.

I really liked what we ate last night, and so did he. It's one of those dishes that I have been asked to make again - the nacho dip, we have had before on numerous occasions, it's a fan favourite in our household. The burritos were evolved from another recipe that we tried last week and liked, but agreed that it needed...more stuff.

Both these recipes originated from a fantastic vegan cookbook by Angela Liddon called Oh She Glows. I highly recommend this book, especially if you are new to vegan cooking, but ESPECIALLY if you live with a non-vegan. Everything I have made from this book, my omnivore husband has liked, and that is saying a lot!

Both recipes have been adapted and added on-to by myself.

Recipe 1: The Warm Nacho Dip

For the cheeze sauce:
1 cup raw cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours
1 cup peeled and chopped carrots
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic (or 1/2 tsp pureed garlic from a jar)
1 1/4 tsp fine-grain salt
3/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
2/3 cup water
1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)

For the dip:
1 cup chunky salsa
1/2 to 1 cup chopped yellow or sweet onion
2 to 3 handfuls of baby spinach, roughly chopped

Making it: First, preheat the oven to 425F and lightly grease an oven-safe baking dish.
Boil the chopped carrots until fork-tender, drain, let cool for a few minutes, then place in a blender. Drain and rinse the soaked cashews and add them to the blender. Add all the other cheeze sauce ingredients and blend until it's a smooth sauce. You may have to add a little more water, but the sauce should be quite thick.
In a large bowl, mix together the salsa, onion and spinach, then add the sauce and mix it all together. Put it in the baking dish, and sprinkle some crushed tortilla chips or panko on top, then bake for 20-25 minutes until golden on top. Serve with tortilla chips or pita bread.

Recipe 2: The Cheezy Quinoa Burrito

Another version of Cheeze sauce:
3/4 cups raw cashews, soaked for at least two hours (the longer you soak them, the smoother the sauce will be)
1 clove garlic or 1/2 tsp pureed garlic
1/2 cup unsweetened, un-flavoured almond milk
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 1/2 tsp mustard (yellow or Dijon)
1 tsp lemon juice or white wine vinegar
1/2 fine-grain salt

For the burrito filling:
3/4 cups uncooked quinoa
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 orange pepper, chopped
1 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup corn (fresh or frozen)
Handful of cocktail or marzano tomatoes, quartered
3/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste

Make the cheeze sauce - the process is about the same as for the dip - place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. This sauce will be a bit thicker than the sauce for the dip.

Make the burritos: First, cook the quinoa according to the instructions on the package, and set aside.
Heat up a large pan and add some olive oil and cook the onions and garlic together until the onion is soft and slightly translucent (about 5 minutes, usually, over medium heat). Add the pepper and cook for another few minutes, until it begins to soften. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the beans and corn, mix it all up. If using frozen corn, cook until it is thawed before adding anything else. Add the tomatoes, let them cook down for a couple of minutes, then add the spices. Optional: add in a handful or two of baby spinach at the end and cook until the spinach is wilted down.

In a large bowl, mix together the cooked quinoa and the cheeze sauce. Then add the veggies you just cooked, and mix it all together. Stuff into tortillas (we used the half corn, half wheat kind), roll them up and bake at 425F for 8-10 minutes. I also put guacamole and some hot sauce in the burritos, but that's entirely optional.

I am not great at food photography, but here it is.

This is a very filling dish - One burrito kept me comfortably stuffed all night. It seems like a lot of ingredients, but both dishes are actually quite easy to make (or I would not be making them). Hope you enjoy! Let me know if you made either of these :)

-M.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Digital Detox/ Meditation update

I have to say, this was a good call on my part.

I haven't meditated every day, because some days I just haven't been able to make the time for it - I have been called in to work on short notice and it's been hard to plan my day. BUT, on the days I do make it a point to sit in silence for 15-20 minutes, I notice a significant difference in how the rest of my day goes. I find myself a lot more focused and productive, and also more creative in general. I get stuff done and don't procrastinate as much.

I also haven't been able to get off the phone as much - my own fault entirely. It's hard not to check it all the time! I have been pretty good at leaving it charging during dinner, movies etc., but I still tend to stay on it for too long in the evening and pick it up too soon after I wake up. Progress, though! On the days where I do stay off it more, I do notice a difference - I am more present and more positive, I see more, do more and move more.

The project continues.

-M.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Digital Detox

I always thought it was a sign on being old and stuffy when you started to complain about too many smartphones and computers and how nobody does anything IRL anymore.

Well, I guess I am officially old, and stuffy too. Call it what you will, I need this. I think too much time on various devices has, like I said before, disconnected me (Ironic? Perhaps.), and I also believe it has exacerbated my anxiety and made it even harder for me to be social. In the beginning, it was a tool to communicate when I wasn't very good at it in person, but it has become a handicap instead. So, it's time to detox.

Plan:

- Leave phone alone for the first 30 minutes of waking up.
- No phone while doing other things, i.e. don't scroll through Instagram while watching a movie.
- Turn phone off in the evening and spend the last 30-45 minutes before bed just winding down.
- Write to-do list on paper and check things off.

I am not very far into this project but I am already noticing a difference in my level of productivity, which really is the main goal here. I am looking forward to Getting Shit Done this week.

-M.