Nashville, TN

I managed to unsettle someone within five minutes of being on the ground in Tennessee. To be precise, I hadn’t even gotten off the plane yet. I opened the overhead bin to get out my suitcase, and the guy a row behind me said,

“Do you want some help?”
“No thanks, I got it,” I said, as I reached up and pulled my luggage down. I could feel the shock running through the people behind me, and whether its because I was a small woman in a sundress who refused help, because I did not have an accent, or because people were afraid that this suitcase which weighed 40 lbs was going to crush me, I don’t know. But feeling the shock around me, I laughed and thought, “Welcome to Tennessee.”

Last year one of my friends moved down to TN, to be a kick ass nurse at one of the best residency programs in the nation. I hadn’t seen her in a year, so I flew down for 4th of July weekend. The last time I had been in Tennessee was during a food-stop on an alternative spring break trip, when 38 sleep-deprived college kids tumbled off a bus in the middle of I-don’t-know-where Tennessee. We walked into the Chik-fil-a and everyone turned and stared at us. It happened to be a Saturday afternoon. And all the other customers, from age 5 to 60, were in dresses and shirts with collars. And there we stood in sweatpants and sweatshirts, slightly gross from being on a bus for 15 hours. It was hilarious.

This time, however, I was visiting Nashville. Nashville is, as my friend Kate puts it, “the biggest small town that ever existed”. Which is true. Although it’s a city of 659,000 people, bigger than Boston by 15,000, it feels much more like a giant sprawling neighborhood, with a few skyscrapers thrown in for the business district.

NASHVILLE

I appreciate driving with Kate—she turns the volume up when good parts of songs comes on so that our car is shaking and we sing along at the top of our lungs on the highway, rolling slow in the Tennessee heat with other drivers looking at us like we’re crazy.

Cause we are. You can take the girls out of New England, but you can’t take the New England out of the girls.

Our first stop after getting me from the airport was food. The Pharmacy is a restaurant with pretty much the best hamburgers I have ever had. I was too excited about seeing Kate to really look at what I was ordering, and I was surprised to find that my hamburger included a burger, then bacon, and then an egg, sandwiched between the two buns. It turned out I had ordered “The Farm Burger.”

Kate then casually dropped that she’s found a few brown recluse spiders living in her house— which are highly poisonous, a lovely southern surprise. The next 45 minutes of our lives entailed looking at pictures of brown recluse bites, researching the symptoms, treatments, and prognosis, and being equally enthralled and horrified by the pictures of necrotic flesh.

That’s what you get for graduating with a degree in nursing and pathobiology. We love this shit.

We drove out to rural TN the next day to go hiking around Randor lake, and then go tubing on the Red River. Both were beautiful although I got sunburned in five minutes. Additionally, I learned that people in Nashville really love their gates. This is what Kate and I realized as we drove up and down neighborhoods. As an added bonus, most of the gates were pointless.

“It goes out five feet on either side!” I yelled, pointing at the offending brick gate as we drove past yet another useless “gate”. “We could literally just go around it and drive on their lawn to get to the house!”

Kate agreed. It became a game of finding the most pointless gate. (See the video at the end of the post for the winner).

Kate found a Catholic church that she likes, so on Sunday morning we got up early and headed a few miles down the road. I’m extremely thrilled that my friend has found a church (I’ve been church-hunting for 2 YEARS and it sucks), but I was a little reserved as we headed over. I grew up Catholic, but now identify solely as Christian. However, the South is known for being religious, and I was curious to see how a Catholic Mass differed down here than up North.

Spoiler alert: there is no difference.

I should have expected this, really. Catholicism has a LOT of rules. There is no room for a Mass to differ state to state, or even country to country. The Priest wears robes, we sit, we stand, we sing, we kneel, we stand, we receive communion, we profess our faith, we shake hands, we sit, we stand, we walk out.

However, I was very pleasantly surprised when the Priest took a moment to pray for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and managed to do so without any malice or bias toward either candidate. He asked God to give them strength, wisdom, and to guide them to make our Country whole. Thank God someone is praying for our country.

THE NIGHTLIFE:

Nashville nightlife is FUN. There are bars with live music and bars that have both live music and DJ’s. We went out with a bunch of Kate’s work friends, and her roommate’s cousins. The first night we went to a few bars on Broadway. One of the bars was 3 stories high, the top floor putting you at mid-height with the skyscrapers surrounding you on the open deck, which was nice in the summer night. They also had a live band that played Sweet Home Alabama, which instantly won them over in my heart. If anyone goes to Nashville I’d recommend going to Crazy Town, the second bar we hit. It was insane, and pretty much the most fun I’ve ever had going out.

Also, people actually dance in Nashville; I saw swing dancing, country dancing, and everything in between. I have also discovered that Whisky and coke is disgusting. You’re great, TN, but for the love of God, I do not like whiskey mixed with coke.

At some point at the second bar I got invited to shoot guns at some guy’s house. He was fairly drunk at this point and upon hearing that I wanted to go to a shooting range and learn more about gunmanship (but they were all closed for the 4th weekend), invited me to his friend’s house. His friend overheard this and got in his face.

“DUDE! You are NOT inviting more people over to my house!”

“Why not?” hat-boy replied, sounding kind of like a whining 5 year old. “They’re from here!”

“DUDE. NO.”

Nightlife in Nashville starts at 10pm and ends at 3am. I am not used to this. All other cities have agreed that you go out around 9:30 and get back at 1am; I expressed the sentiment to Kate. Her solution was to buy me a Vodka Redbull at the first bar we went to. This worked extremely well, in addition to tasting great. I have never had Redbull or any energy drink before, but I figured it worked like coffee—get energy for a few hours, then it’s done.

No.

We got home at 3:30am and I climbed into bed, ready to sleep for hours. Instead, I woke up at 7:00am with my brain shouting, “HELLO WORLD! WHAT AN AMAZING DAY, LET’S ALL GET OUT THERE AND DO OUR BEST!” while my body was saying “why. 3 hours of sleep. How.”

Redbull, my friends. Like I said, new to energy drinks.

THE HISTORY

On my last day we visited a plantation, which was known for raising thoroughbreds that win the Kentucky Derby. You know what else this Southern Plantation was known for, that they seemed to have skipped over in the guidebook? Owning 84 slaves.

Yeah.

I love history, especially anything to do with European or the Revolutionary War history. But Southern history leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. I recognize this is called cognitive dissonance. I am all too happy to walk the Revolutionary Trail, walk over the Old North Bridge, and tour the Mayflower. I consider that my history, my county’s inspiring and wicked awesome history, fighting to throw off British rule.

But when it comes to the civil war, I don’t see it as “our history”. I see it as North versus South, Right versus Wrong. And since I was born in the North, I look at the civil was as one huge embarrassing splotch of time. Even though MA had slaves until at least 1781 (civil war started in 1861), I feel more disgust at the South than shame at the North when I think of the Civil War.

We also walked around Stone’s River Battlefield, which was the bloodiest battle for the Confederate army. It was a wide, stretching field. Standing there in the 99 degree heat, cars passing only once every half hour on the road, I didn’t feel anything but sadness, unusual for me when at historical landmarks. Of the 35,000 southern troops, 23,000 died trying to keep the right to own other human beings. And yet in the 151 years after the civil war, we still seem to be having issues as a nation over what “equality for all” means.

THE RACISM

We went to Percy Priest on my second to last day there, hoping to hike. Unfortunately the trails were blocked with police barriers, so we walked down to the lake and people watched instead.

I knew before I flew to Tennessee that there was ignorance down South (there’s ignorance everywhere), but I was still speechless at what I saw.

“Oh my God,” Kate said, stopping walking. “Megan. Look over there.”

I turned to where she was nodding, and saw a girl wading into the water with her dog. She was wearing a bikini that looked like the British flag; red, white and blue with stars…. Except it wasn’t the British or American flag.

“Is that-?”

“Yes.”

We continued to stare at this girl and her boyfriend. She was either the most ignorant person I’d ever seen, or the most racist.

The girl, her boyfriend, Kate, and I were the only Caucasian people on the lake. Everyone else was black. I had seen Confederate bumper stickers on trucks that read “Heritage, not Hate.” Yeah, okay. That would be like Germany flying Nazi flags and being like “Oh, no, this has nothing to do with the Holocaust; this is history, not hate against a particular group of people.”

You can’t separate them. Most of history is one group of people persecuting another group of people out of hate, because of the latter group’s heritage.

I don’t think any of us can fathom someone trying to defend flying the Nazi flag. You wouldn’t do that, because that is BEYOND racist. At that point, you are saying that you’d like to hold onto the symbol of genocide and enslavement of other human beings, because that part of history gives you the warm and fuzzies. That particular part of your heritage is something you’re proud of.

This notion is sickening, but more horrifying is that black people down south actually have to live with neighbors and co-workers and random strangers who are not only racist, but who are not rebuked for their racism by their society. Not that the North is blameless or perfect. Heritage without hate is a hard thing to define, but it definitely does not include racist flags on a bikini. There’s a lot more to be said about this topic, but it’s not something I want to brush over quickly in a blog post, so I’ll leave it here.

OTHER THINGS

You can check out some of the other things Kate and I did in the videos here. I kept my video’s pretty light, full of pancakes, tractors, and food.

 

 

 

 

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Holiday Baking, Grad School Edition

Lots of bloggers are posting holiday-themed recipes, so I thought I’d join in. Since you’re a graduate student living on a budget we’re going to adapt it a for our time and money purposes.

Breakfast:

  • Cook Oatmeal
  • Top with brown sugar

Awwww, how cute. The brow sugar is like snow. Get yogurt and throw some brown sugar on there too.

Great job, champ.

Lunch:

  • Get the cheese-sticks that you can pull apart (string cheese?)
  • Pull it apart
  • Criss-cross the strands to make a snowflake
  • Sprinkle some cinnamon and nutmeg onto that rice you’ve been eating for the past 2 weeks.

Actually, wait, you can’t; have you seen how expensive spices are?! Use your imagination instead. Yummmm, doesn’t that taste festive?

 

Snack:

Are you serious? Snack-time is for preschoolers. You don’t get a snack.

Okay, okay, you can have a snack.

  • Get some graham crackers.
  • Try to build a gingerbread house from the squares.

Wasn’t that fun? Now get back to writing your research paper.

Dinner:

We’re really going to go big here, guys. I went grocery shopping last week, so the fridge has food in it.

  • Get out a pan
  • Turn on the stove to medium-high
  • Get out some asparagus and a red pepper from the fridge
  • Put them in the pan and cover for 5 minutes
  • Dump onto a plate

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Congratulations. You’re eating Christmas trees and Santa’s sleigh. DO YOU FEEL CHEEFUL NOW?!

***

Joking aside, I LOVE baking, especially around the holidays. But our oven has two settings: burn everything, or undercook everything. And our stove has some issues too…

I will be putting up an actual blog post about holiday baking once I’m back home and have access to an oven that understands what its job is.

You have one job, oven.

One.

 

Megan goes to grad school, Part 1:

 

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Lots of clothes, because I heard MN is cold…

Surviving Public Health Grad school in Minnesota is simple. You just have to follow 3 rules.

  1. Stay out of the bike lanes
  2. SAS (Statistical Analysis Software) isn’t stupid. You are.
  3. Seriously, stay out of the bike lanes

This was the advice given to me by one of my professors. The first piece of advice comes from the fact that Minneapolis is one of the most bike-able cities in the United States, which means there are designated bike lanes alongside the lanes for cars on pretty much all of the major city roads. The bikes follow different rules than cars—watch out, or you will get run over. Sometimes I feel like I’m in watching the tour de France when I walk to class, because 12 or more students on bicycles will go flying by as a pack.

The second piece of advice is important because if you think SAS is stupid, you will lose hope quickly. SAS is data coding/analysis software that epidemiologists and biostatitians use on a daily basis. It is also notoriously frustrating in the field of public health. As my professor said, in order to learn SAS, “you want to get frustrated, because that’s where the learning happens. Get to the point where you want to throw your computer out of the window—this is a good point. If you get to the point where you want to punch your lab partner, though, that’s when you call a TA over for help.”

If your code isn’t running and you’re blaming SAS, well, that’s the end of it. If SAS is wrong and you are right, your code will never run. But if you admit that maybe, maybe, you made a coding error somewhere, it means you can fix it, and get the program to run.

The third piece of advice is because DID YOU NOT HEAR THE PART ABOUT STAYING OUT OF THE BIKE LANES?

I’ve been in MN and in Grad school for about 3 months now, and here are a couple of thoughts:

  • Minneapolis has some of the best public transport I have ever experienced in a city, not including European cities (which are pretty much unbeatable).
  • There is a lot of pride in the University of Minnesota. People just refer to it as “the U”. This is very different for me, as people from MA barely talk about UMASS, even though it has strong programs too.
  • The Minnesota Department of Health rocks. They are nationally known for their work on epidemiological investigations (the CDC routinely calls them up and says “Hey. Can you solve this? K thanks bye”). So in terms of states in which to study Public Health, MN is the place to be. I’ve gone to MDH a few times now to talk to current epidemiologists about their work, and they’ve always been super helpful and willing to take time to talk with graduate students.
  • Hockey is important. This is excellent news for me, seeing as I love watching men’s hockey. Annie and I went to a UMN Men’s hockey game against Northeastern. We even picked up the chants (“M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A, Minnesota, Minnesota, Gooooooo Gophers!” There are arm motions that go along with it, but that’s top secret). Northeastern got a little desperate in the 3rd period (they had yet to score a goal), and a huge fight broke out that resulted in 4 MN players and 3 Boston players going to the penalty box. It was awesome. And hilarious.
  • The MN State Fair is the largest state fair in the United States, attended by almost 2 million people each year. I went with one of my friends, and we first went through the multiple livestock barns. In one of the barns we saw a llama challenge course, in which kids in 4H herded their llamas through several obstacles (pile of logs, a tent, little jumps). For those who love food, there was plenty of fried food on a stick (see picture below), in addition to amusement rides, and a Grandstand that had different singers/shows. While it was fun, I actually think the Eastern States Exposition (The BigE), held in MA every year, has more to offer. I grew up going to the Big E, and was really excited for the MN state fair. But it turns out the Big E has all that MN has, in addition to people selling crafts (wood working, handmade rugs, cool art), in addition to the 6 New England State houses, each containing history of the state, and a food famous from that state (blueberry pie, finnish pancakes, maple syrup, clam fritters, lobster, etcetera).

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  • New England falls are the most gorgeous falls in the entire United States. I miss them. This is MN’s attempt at fall:
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  • The mentality of MN is very different than the rest of the Midwest. MN has an in-grown culture that is very hard to break into. The State of MN has one of the highest retention rates in the US of its residents, and it’s not because of the low unemployment rate, great hospitals, or huge job industries: people in MN just don’t think that other states offer something interesting. It’s not even that they’re in love with their own state (which I could understand)…. they just aren’t interested in other parts of the country. (There are whole websites that try to explain this type of MN culture). Which is very very strange to me.

It is important to note that there are always exceptions to the rule, and MN graduate students are a little less Minnesotan-culture than the rest of the state. That being said, the majority of the friends I’ve made here are either 1) not from MN, like me, or 2) are from MN and are planning on moving away. It’s really hard to explain—it’s not that people are stuck up, or uninterested in life. They’re just not curious about other states/cities. (Again, generalization of MN. Graduate students are a little less like that).

  • They have “ski hills” here. Which I honestly have to try not to laugh about every time someone mentions them. A lot of the people I’ve met have never been to NE, or anywhere outwest, so they don’t understand why I find the ski hills funny.
  • One of my friends (from MN, wants to stay in MN), kindly invited me to her family’s Thanksgiving dinner, seeing as I am 1,383 miles away from home this year. Her family, sisters, aunt and uncle, cousins and grandparents were so welcoming and friendly. It was a really nice way to spend Thanksgiving. They also asked lots of questions about MA, something I haven’t encountered from many Minnesotans (see? The exceptions to the rule). I brought veggies and ranch dip, and tried their family’s signature thanksgiving dishes (I tried root berry for the first time! Or berry root… I can’t remember. It was a type of grain.)
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Casual Minneapolis Skyline from campus

Graduate school so far has been filled with a lot of classes, interesting guest speakers that the university brings in, career discussions, making new friends, exploring Minneapolis and St. Paul, and a lot of self-driven career exploration. Also, a few nights ago my friend and I took a pair of bolt cutters and cut a cable-bike lock off of a bike. While laughing like maniacs. And getting strange stares from people walking by. My friend lost her bike key a few weeks ago and it was never turned into transportation services, so she had to cut her bike free from the bike rack on campus.

In short, grad school is awesome. And stressful. And great. And exhausting.

For the first month, I’m not going to lie—my thought every other day was “why the hell did I decide to go for more school?”. Which, the rational part of my brain always answered, “because you want to be an epidemiologist, and you need an MPH for that.”

But all of my other friends who graduated with me were “starting their lives,” as I looked at it. They were getting full time jobs, exploring new hobbies, and sleeping in late on weekends and going to brunch with friends. They were putting money away in the bank and paying off student loans, getting engaged and getting a dog.

While I was, once again, studying and loosing sleep and stressing about job opportunities and taking out more loans.

I am so thankful to be a graduate student, to have the opportunity to further my education. I’m very lucky, and I don’t take that for granted. I knew going into this what it meant in terms of time and money. And I knew I didn’t want to wait coming from undergrad. Public Health is exploding now, and in less than 2 years I can join the work force on solving new and complex problems. I choose to look at life as an adventure– so this particular adventure just happens to include more school work.

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Ways to Avoid/Procrastinate finishing your Thesis

  1. Check your email
  2. See that your sister posted a link on your Facebook to an ab workout
  3. Do the ab workout, because doesn’t that look like fun? (Spoiler: No. Pain. It’s all pain.)
  4. Plan your workout schedule for next week
  5. Teach your friend the choreography she missed at dance practice
  6. Wonder if school will be canceled Monday, although this in no way affects when your thesis is due
  7. Watch a youtube video on world’s best volleyball liberos
  8. Click on the “related” video link of a libero volleyball injury
  9. Then watch Sports Injuries Compilation videos parts 1 through 6.
  10. Re-watch the nasty injuries 3 or 4 times while clutching your face and stomach.
  11. Wonder if that gymnast who screwed up her knee is alright, and look it up on Google (Rebecca Bross is okay, everyone. She had surgery but she’s fine now!)
  12. Finish an assignment for your Molecular and Cell Bio course
  13. Talk to Mom on the phone
  14. Fold your laundry
  15. Look up the Graduate Programs you’re deciding between
  16. Wonder if they’ll rescind their offer of admission if you fail to finish your thesis…
  17. Stare at your thesis data
  18. Stare out the window at the pretty SNOW! OMG IT’S SNOWING AND IT’S SO FLIPPING BEAUITFUL.
  19. Go outside to enjoy the beautiful snow, because you can’t be expected to stay inside and watch it, now can you?
  20. Come back inside.
  21. Eat chocolate.
  22. Wonder if the movie “Inception” is on Netflix.
  23. Check (It’s not.)
  24. Listen to Fall Out Boy’s New Album
  25. Wonder when the care package from your older sister will arrive
  26. Email Graduate programs with questions
  27. Stretch
  28. Have a dance party.
  29. Sing along to Three Days Grace songs at the top of your lungs
  30. Take out the trash
  31. Watch a Jennifer Lawrence interview because she is hilarious
  32. Text your friends to make plans for tonight
  33. Realize that if you don’t finish your thesis, you can’t do anything tonight
  34. ….. Write a few sentences.
  35. Open up a new word document
  36. Make a blog post about all the ways you can avoid finishing your thesis!

Can ANYONE define this term?

Outspoken Woman.

My first question is: how would you define this term? When I tried to define it, the image that popped into my head was Hillary Clinton, followed by Tina Fey; but that is simply because the media has placed the word “outspoken” next to them countless times. The media (surprise, surprise) has a lot of ideas about what actions mark an “outspoken woman”. At 21 years old, here is what I’ve learned so far: 

Much of society and the media tell me that an outspoken woman is one who voices her opinion and who holds her own beliefs, even when others disagree. According to the media, an outspoken woman is someone who gets an education, and then fights for her rights to equal pay, and who presses charges when she is sexually harassed in the workplace; is one who talks about how abuse, assault, and rape are not okay, and demands higher institutions (school boards, work places, the government) to hold persecutors accountable. An outspoken woman is one who takes an interest in current events, and who votes on issues such as taxes, immigration, and even reproductive rights. An outspoken woman encourages a healthy eating lifestyle, and tells magazines to stop photoshoping inches off her waist, because it’s unrealistic. Society has repeatedly told me through t.v shows, advertising, newspapers, and even day-to-day conversations, that outspoken women…. are out-of-line and a nuisance.

As I seriously tried to define the term in my head, I realized this: what society has told me is an outspoken woman is what I simply call…. a woman.

I see them everywhere. My friends, my cousins, my classmates, neighbors, and me, all fit society’s definition of what makes a woman outspoken. In the 21st century it’s a huge red flag that a woman who simply stands behind her opinion, or presses for her rights as a human being, or calls injustices to the spotlight, is given the label of “outspoken”. 

Which leads me to my second question: What is the definition of an outspoken man?

Because a guy who gets an education and fights for a job, who debates politics and votes, who has a strong, educated opinion and shares it unabashed…. is just called a man.

So why do women get the adjective?

 

I think it’s time we dropped it.

Strong is the new Skinny

Cathedral Ledge, NH

Cathedral Ledge, NH

 

For some reason, my sister and I thought it would be a great idea to attach ourselves to some rope, hand it to a man we had never met before, and then climb 500 feet above the ground.

In other words, my sister and I were rock-climbing Cathedral Ledge in North Conway, NH.

We were performing a 4-pitch climb, which means the instructor climbs up while we belay him from the ground. Then we climb up until there is a small piece of cliff we can all fit on, and we switch out ropes and change belayers, so our instructor can climb higher (repeat these steps 3 times), until we reach the top of the mountain.

Rock climbing is an adrenaline rush like no other, and I’ve now been lucky enough to do it twice in NH with my sister. Every INCH of me feels like it’s going to explode when I rock climb, every nerve is screaming and as I climb higher and higher, as I continue to press myself against the vertical rock and somehow manage to get my foot and hand grips to hold, I can’t stop smiling. I love the ache in my arms. I love the sting of my shoulder being scraped by the cold granite. I love the view. I don’t even mind the small bit of panic that occasionally rises in my chest, reminding me how crazy and amazing the whole idea of rock-climbing is.

When we reached the top of Cathedral Ledge, I was so proud of my sister and I. We had summited a mountain. Nothing had gotten us to where we stood but hard work, determination, and sheer willpower.

We made it!

We made it!

At the top

 

Every girl has something she doesn’t like about her body, or something she wishes was different. I am no exception. With a spinal curve of 23 degrees that put me in a Boston Back Brace for 3 years, I had always wished it gone.

Throughout Jr. High and High School I played on the volleyball and tennis teams. To be honest, I was a good athlete. But in the back of my mind I always looked at myself and thought, “I’m good at volleyball, but if I didn’t have the curve I’d be just a bit taller…” and “my back muscles would be stronger, and my tennis forehand swing would be better…”.

Standing on top of the mountain, the only thought involving my spine was: “I have a 23 degree curve in my back. I was in a brace for 3 years. My back muscles are weak and my shoulders are tilted and… I climbed a mountain.”

The only thing my spine was in that moment, was part of a human being that is powerful and capable of anything she puts her mind to.

And this goes for everyone. Whatever your self-assigned “flaw” is, whatever it is about your body that you wish you could change…. I challenge you to go climb your personal mountain. Whether that means actually climbing a mountain, or biking or public-speaking, do something that pushes you physically or mentally. And when you accomplish your task, there is only one thing you will be able to say about your body: you did it. “Flaw” and all, you did it.

Because guess what? You don’t have a perfect smile. Or maybe you don’t have a thigh gap, or toned arms, or you have a little more weight than you want. Guess what else?

NONE OF IT FREAKING MATTERS. I am so tired of hearing women berate themselves, of them picking apart their own looks or abilities.

I want a day when we all get out of bed and look in the mirror and exclaim at our reflection: GOOD MORNING, ME! I AM A BEATUIFUL, POWERFUL, AND CAPABLE HUMAN BEING!

Can we do that, please? Tuesday sound good? Great.

But really. We don’t need perfect abs or straight teeth or shiny hair to accomplish goals. We don’t need a straight spine or a thigh-gap, no matter how much we may want one, or think it would make our lives better.

What we need is to stop telling ourselves that we’re not good enough. We need to start enjoying experiences without negative self-thoughts. Because once you stop focusing on your self-assigned“flaw” and look around, once you’ve summited your mountain…. the view is amazing 🙂

 

In which I do not fall into the Atlantic Ocean. And Volleyball

[Long overdue post with multiple events in it, all from several weeks ago]

A few weekends ago I went on a Weekend Adventure Trip to County Donegal, Ireland. For 3 days I got to bike ride along roads with nothing but sheep, fields, and the occasional building, go horseback riding to see a waterfall, rock-climb with the ocean 20ft to my left, sail on the Atlantic ocean, learn how to navigate using maps and compasses as we trekked over hills, and learn about the amazing history of the region as we walked across wet-lands.

This trip was incredible. It was a long bus ride to the hostel– 4 hours, because it was on the other side of the country, but entirely worth it! (It feels so weird to say that I crossed an entire country in 4 hours. Oh Ireland).

The rugged beauty of nothing but grass, sheep, hills, and rocky coastline was breathtaking. And the people that led the activities were all locals of Donegal! They were great—so friendly, easy to talk to, and couldn’t wait to share their culture with us.

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My favorite parts of the trip were hands down rock-climbing next to the sea, and sailing on the Atlantic. I have been rock-climbing in the New Hampshire White Mountains twice in my life, and was eager to try climbing in Ireland. The first thing I noticed was how different the rock was. The NH rock climbing I’d done was on granite—nice, smooth, cold granite. The rocks in Ireland were rough. Extremely abrasive and actually a little painful haha. My hands were raw when I got to the top, but it was entirely worth it: the view was incredible. Also pretty cool was that we got to meet Iain Miller, who is well known in the rock-climbing community. He was the one belaying us! (I got a high five from him when I came back down. It was epic).

The view from the top of the rocks

The view from the top of the rocks

Rock-climbing!

Rock-climbing!

Rock climbing I was ready and excited for. Sailing, however…. I was a little nervous. I was extremely excited, but also kept thinking about all the things that could go wrong with 6 people on a very small sailboat in the freezing, rough Atlantic ocean (a lot, if you were wondering). I don’t have a fear of water; I grew up playing in the ocean and going water-tubing and fishing on lakes. I do, however, have a fear of falling into a freezing cold ocean in the middle of March, with no land around that I can swim to.

I told myself that if worst came to worse, and we did capsize or something (this is how my mind works, people)…. well, I actually had no solution to that situation. When I say we were in the middle of NOWHERE, I mean it. No houses around, no lifeguard points, no nothing. Gareth, the man who took us out sailing was a certified instructor, so I just decided to trust in that.

And I am so glad I did. Sailing is amazing. The sea was very rough, and I kept getting sprayed with ice-cold seawater, tasting of salt and beautiful Ireland. And the pace was incredible! Due to the intensity of the wind, not only were we speeding along, but it also made steering the boat a struggle.

We each had a turn to take the helm of the boat and steer. You’ve really got to love the Irish. When the first student took hold of the tiller, he looked at Gareth and asked, “how do I steer”? Gareth replied, “the best way to learn is just to give it a go!”

The student turned the till and we all grabbed the sides as the boat took a sharp right. “Other way, other way,” Gareth laughed, un-phased by the sudden jolt.

Sometimes the wind made it so hard to hold the course, that one side of the boat was nearly letting water in. Of course, this was always the side I happened to be on, and each time it happened I would lean forward and grab something in the middle of the boat. It was both terrifying and fantastic at the same time.

My sailing group

My sailing group

I'M STEERING THE BOAT!

I’M STEERING THE BOAT!

We also pulled multiple tacks (switched directions), which required all of us working together as a team. Gareth was a great instructor and I even got to direct one of the tacks, because I was at the till during it. Basically, you say “ready about” to let everyone know to get in position. Once everyone is set you yell “lee-ho!” and push the tiller all the way to one side and climb over it, while people switch out ropes and swing the sail the opposite way. It’s quite a lot going on in one moment on a little boat.

Looking back, I think the reason I loved sailing so much was because it was a challenge for me. I love trying new things, and this was something I had zero experience in. Also, I like going fast 🙂

And the easy-going nature of our instructor made it that much better. He shared stories with us as we sailed, about his life out in Donegal, about sailing with dolphins, about fishing, and his love of the incredible ocean. You can check out their sailing school here.

Besides sailing, we also went trekking through the hills of Dongeal with a guide, learning how to navigate using topographical maps and compasses. These people go hard-core. In the middle of our hike a steady, cold rain started. We were soon walking through what felt like a marsh. The Irish hills, by the way, are extremely uneven, and I am honestly surprised that no one sprained an ankle. Due to the rain, poor visibility, and the slippery, uneven ground, everyone took at least one tumble or slip, even our guide. My sneakers were entirely flooded with water, and there was nothing but brown and green marshland in sight. Even the sheep had disappeared! But our guide was not deterred and happily kept going, having us take turns guiding the way further and further away from civilization. An hour later we were all beyond thankful to get back to the warm hostel, and after we dried off and warmed up, we could more fully appreciated what we had accomplished.

Our new-found sheep friends

Our new-found sheep friends

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More sheep

Where we were hiking

Where we were hiking

The adventure trip was everything I had hoped for. I literally climbed, walked, rode, and sailed in Ireland with nothing but pure, unspoiled earth for as far as the eye could see. Everyone else on the trip had the same great sense of adventure, and I had fun making new friends and exploring with others.

Us near an old wrecked boat

Us near an old wrecked boat

Study Abroad 2014

Study Abroad 2014

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In other news, I joined a volleyball team at UCD this semester. After 2 months of practices and training, we competed in one of Ireland’s National Volleyball Tournaments. It was a 2-day tournament held at UCD, with teams from many different volleyball clubs across Ireland. We literally spent the whole weekend in the gym. When we weren’t playing a match, we were supporting the UCD guy’s team, screaming and shouting for them.

I loved playing competitive volleyball again with a team—it honestly brings me a lot of happiness to be part of a team, and there is nothing quite as satisfying as spiking a volleyball. My coach had me playing right side hitter, which was new for me (I have played outside hitter for the past 7 years of my life), but it turned out fine. We made it to the finals! It was a long, hard final match, and although we played really well, we ended up losing after 3 very long sets. Still, it was a really fun weekend.

The UCD Cusai Women's Team

The UCD Cusai Women’s Team

medal