Happiness

California Adventures

Before this last week, it had been a hot-minute since the last time Lizzy and I had been on a real vacation. Our parents love us more than anything, and do their best for us, but when money is tight, it is hard to make extravagant adventures happen.

A few weeks ago I had been sitting in my usual spot in Caribou, (quite a shocker I know), and I was just using my time to read and write and think. I realized how sick of my city I was. I am not a girl who is meant to be confined to a small town on the Iron Range with only one coffee shop and no malls, farmers markets, book stores, and everything else that you find in a large city. I have been feeling this way for quite a long time… ever since I finally embraced who the fact that I am a girl with big dreams and many plans for life. The feeling always tends to get stronger over the summertime when my days are wide open and I can do just about whatever I want to do. I decided that I was not going to let this summer go on the way my past few had been. That meant that I was not going to spend the whole three months of freedom I had in Hibbing, Minnesota just sitting here and wishing I was somewhere else. I decided that if I wanted things to happen, that I would have to make them happen.

I spent a few days looking into different areas that I had relatives in where I could possibly stay. I knew that with my upcoming trip to New York that I had secretly been planning to ask to take would not ever happen if I went and blew all of our money on a different trip. I also knew New York would be a crazy, busy trip and wanted to take a trip with Lizzy where we could just relax and take a break.

One day remembered that I had a great aunt named Sandy who had recently moved back to California after living there in the past. I brought it up to my mother one day and then again… then again… It started off as just a conversational piece but eventually turned into some serious plans. My mom wavered on and off about it, but eventually she was on the phone with Sandy. Initially there were a few different times where we thought the vacation wasn’t going to happen, but one night I got a text at work from Liz saying our plane tickets were purchased. That meant that Lizzy and I would be traveling to California by ourselves to stay with Sandy for four full days.

July 13th (The morning before our departure)

Thursday morning was our last day in Hibbing. I had breakfast with my sister and my Dad so that we could talk before we left on our trip. After some quality father and daughter time, followed by last minute packing, we left for St.Paul to spend the night at my uncle’s house so that we could catch our plane early the next morning.

 

July 14th (The day our flight goes out)

Early mornings are my favorite kind. I started that day at around 6a.m. with a fresh new outfit and some caffeine. After being dropped off at the Minneapolis airport, where we were separated from our mom and uncle, Liz and I managed to navigate through check-in and security and find our gate with little experience and no help. This is the usual for people who travel often, but for us, we felt pretty good about ourselves at that time. We found one of the many overpriced airport restaurants and I had breakfast at the build-your-own yogurt parfait bar plus Caribou. Then Liz and I sat around for a little bit after that and eventually got on our plane. It was an amazing flight where I read quite a bit from The Wellness Project. Before I knew it, we landed in San Francisco. We met our aunt and immediately made the drive to Santa Rosa where Sandy calls home. The drive was another two hours piled onto the three and a half hour plane ride, but we got to do some sightseeing and talk with Sandy.

We arrived and immediately had lunch at a cute little cafe where I enjoyed a kale and quinoa salad along with the Spa Treatment (aka a sparkling water flavored with massaged cucumber, mint, and lime) (aka the best thing ever). Then we made our way to Sandy’s house.

Walking in, my first impression blew me away. The house was a bit older and had so much character. With an open concept kitchen that was flooded with sunlight from the two sets of sliding glass doors that outlook her gorgeous backyard pool and landscaped yard, I already felt at home. After dropping off our bags we made our way to Whole Foods to shop for some food for the upcoming vacation. I walked in and fell in love. I am a big advocate for local, organic, and whole foods. Not only does this grocery chain they follow those standards but they have a deli was full of amazing dishes, coffee ice-cream, bakery items, and so much more (some that I chose for dinner that night). They also carry all the hard-to-get-at brands where I live in the middle of nowhere without any health-food stores. I found Perfect Bars, Siete tortillas, Pressed Juicery juices along with so many fresh and exciting produce. Of course Lizzy grabbed ice cream balls, aka Mochi, that were surprisingly delicious. They had a doughy texture on the outside that resembles bread dough and the inside was pure ice cream, I am happy to say they were the first of my Californian treats that literally left me drooling. The rest of that night was pretty low-key. It consisted of visiting and unpacking along with planning and list-making.

 

July 15th (Our first full day)

Our first morning began with one of my favorite breakfasts: sunny-side up eggs on top of a Siete tortilla smothered with avocado. After enjoying, Liz and I went outside and took advantage of the beautiful backyard while laying in the sun and taking in the amazing view of the mountains. We relaxed like this for a bit and then got our suits on. After a few stops, and lunch-packing, we made our way to Bodega Bay. The drive to the ocean was such a sight. After going through a few towns, (some of which had cute surf shops!), we got to swerve through the mountains where I felt smaller than I ever had before. The Californian Mountains were so large and went back as far as the eye can see. They were full of luscious green patches and dry patches alike. I could not have asked to have seen a more beautiful sight on my first day.

Once we got to the beach Liz and I got settled in the sand, which included an episode of a barefooted Lizzy who reassured me with her scream and run tactic that, yes, the sand was extremely hot and that, yes, you do need to wear shoes. We settled onto the sand and enjoyed our lunch of our Whole Foods finds on our towels and then began our trek along the shore. Our time was filled with a beach photoshoot, sand dollar and seashell hunting, and squeals as we attempted to dip into the glacier-temperature water. After walking for quite a bit we found our way back to our little spot on the beach and I spent the rest of the afternoon sleeping in the sun next to the Pacific Ocean.IMG_0899

Eventually our beach bums got up and did a bit of sightseeing. We walked through some shops and candy stores along the road that ran along the whole beach.Our trip was finished with a stop near the top of the road withan overlook onto the whole beach and the gorgeous waters. Although the cold wind sent me into the car for half of this part of the sightseeing, the view was extraordinary. I have always felt most connected with the God when I spent time in nature, where I can really see His gorgeous handiwork. In those moments, I spent time thanking Him for the opportunity to be taking that trip to Cali and for the detailed and unique creations that he has put on this earth for my enjoyment. It is truly an amazing thought that God, the Creator of the Universe, created all of this and yet felt that the Earth also needed one of me as well.

Of course, after a day at the beach, ice cream is mandatory. So Sandy and her sister, Barb, took us to their favorite spot: Frosty’s Freeze. I got a chocolate cone that brought me back to my childhood days after visits to the cabin with my father when we would always stop at DQ and my order was the same (aside from the chocolate dip that I also added as a kid).IMG_0675

 

July 16th (Our second full day)

Sunday mornings have always been my favorite. I woke up and Lizzy and I enjoyed our breakfasts by the poolside. After getting ready, we left for church. It was a nice service with some amazing worship music, one that I felt very welcomed to. After realizing that Sandy had left the pool water running back at home, we rushed back right after the service to shut off the hose just in time before her backyard began to flood! Although, due of the fact that Santa Rosa broke a heat record that day reaching 108 degrees for the first time in years, I don’t think her plants would’ve minded much.

Once we hopped back in the car we made our way to the East West Cafe. This was only one of the many I had on my “Californian Foodie” list of places to stop. They served Mediterranean dishes that were very authentic. After enjoying a salmon wrap with hummus, brown rice, and tabbouleh, we stopped for coffee. Acre Coffee served an amazing soy latte that I sadly forgot to picture, but I did get a few snaps of the cute coffeehouse! Then we drove back to the house and Liz and I, again, suited up and had what we referred to as our ‘pool day’. Due to the heat we had a quick photo session again and then jumped in. With 108 degree weather, the cold pool water felt like a breath of fresh air. We jammed to the Disney radio and swam around while making up dances and just had fun. We had a fun time of relaxing on the furniture with books, some amazing sister talks, and just enjoying our afternoon. Then that night after supper we walked around Sandy’s neighborhood. We walked up and down streets that contained architecture of all kinds. One of my favorite observations I made on this trip was in this state you will see one house, but then turn your head and look upon the neighboring house and you’ll notice it is, most likely, completely different. I love that the people around here were not afraid to express themselves through their homes. There were houses of all colors and shapes that were decorated in such unique ways. These people really lived by the quote, ‘A home is for creative expression, not good impressions’ (one of my favorites from an old movie). When we got back from our walk that was quite a steep one, we felt we deserved to have a movie night by the pool, each with a pint of ice cream to reward ourselves with.img_07271.jpgIMG_0739

July 17th (Our third full day)

It is true when they say that you can find it all in big cities!! We had breakfast that morning at the Omelet Express; a restaurant dedicated to omelets. I had an omelet filled with turkey, avocado, veggies, and sprouts that was to die for. I then nursed my food baby, because I obviously ate my whole omelet, something that the waitress was very impressed with… Apparently most people don’t finish the whole thing, but I could’ve kept going if there had been more! Despite my past of being afraid of food and of trying to resist my intake, I now love to fuel my body and give it all the nourishment it asks for… and that morning… it asked for quite a bit! Soon after we stopped at The Flying Goat Coffee Shop. I was able to try my first ever latte made with oat milk! I have a favorite blogger who raves about it, so I have been dying to try it. That latte had unique flavor that I really enjoyed, along with the thickest layer of froth I have ever received without asking for extra! We walked back to the car and made our way to the main street where Sandy found a parking spot downtown and let us loose. Lizzy and I spent that morning exploring Santa Rosa’s beautiful downtown shops and sights including a magical bookstore that I could’ve explored for hours. I got to spend quality time with Lizzy bonding, laughing, and making the most memorable of memories!IMG_0905IMG_0913

After finishing up in that area we traveled to Sonoma Avenue so that I could hit up The Pharmacy for lunch. It is a cute cafe where they use local and organic ingredients. Their motto is ‘Food is medicine,’ which couldn’t be more true. I ordered the avocado toast, which if I could, I would do over a million times. The thick sourdough was toasted to perfection, it had such a thick layer of avocado, and it was topped with fleur de sol, Katz Olive Oil, chili flakes, and sunflower sprouts. I enjoyed it on their patio furniture while Liz ate their lemon meringue jar. We then continued with our adventures throughout Santa Rosa’s many different offerings of shops and villages.IMG_0967IMG_0918

Near dinner time we went home and rested up for a bit and then got ready for what we named our ‘really fancy dinner night’. We told Sandy we would like to treat her to an amazing dinner at a restaurant of her choice along with buying her a bottle of her favorite wine. We ended up at The Villa; an Italian restaurant in the mountains with the most breathtaking view. That night was what I considered to be a breaking point, so to say, of our vacation. Although I had felt comfortable with Sandy throughout our whole time together, we really bonded that night. She told Lizzy and I about all her different life adventures. She has lived in many different homes in many different towns and states. She has traveled to many countries of which included Israel (where she was able to walk on some of the same streets as Jesus). She told us all about her romance with her husband Bill, of which has now left me with expectations of Prince Charming for my future mate. She told us all kinds of stories of her past and of family history. Liz and I were absolutely amazed with the knowledge that Sandy held. You never realize how much one person has to share until you really take time to get to know them. And I had never realized, until that night, that I had a great aunt who had lived such a fulfilling life full of adventure, traveled to so many places, taken so many crazy opportunites. This lady that I was spending my vacation with was truly someone who had taken life and experienced it to the fullest. So we talked, and laughed, and shared stories, and eventually made our way home to nurse our bellies full of amazing Italian cuisine.IMG_0969

 

July 18th (The last full day of our trip)

Our last full day began with another breakfast at the house next to Sandy’s beautiful bay window out-looking her backyard (and conveniently located next to her Keurig machine). Once we had all gotten ready we drove over to Soco Coffee where I got my usual soy latte and where Liz and I had a quick photoshoot outside on the patio. Then came our drive through the mountains aka ‘wine country’. Before this drive I hadn’t seen too many vineyards and wasn’t quite sure yet why that area is considered the wine country in the first place. However, once you take the drive to Sonoma from Santa Rosa, the question isquickly answered. We went by many, many vineyards, everyone getting more beautiful than the last. They went on for miles, the rows of grapevines. They were such a beautiful, deep shade of green that outdid many of the evergreen trees that I had, before that day, thought were as green as they got! The vineyards were so symmetrical, their rows forming large patches or lines throughout the mountainsides that resembles the rows of lines that are made with a hoe being pulled through the dirt of a garden. The wineries were all just as mesmerizing with their gorgeous architecture and the beautiful gates that were welcoming tourists to turn onto their roads. This 18 mile drive was my absolute favorite view that I witnessed on the whole trip by far, had it been the only bit of nature I got to see on my trip, I wouldn’t have been disappointed.IMG_1004

Once we made it to Sonoma however, once again I wasin awe. It was such a gorgeous place. There was a big square park in the middle of the town surrounded by a large square of boutiques, wine-tasting shops, coffee houses, bookstores, and so much more. We walked all afternoon going in and out of places with a stop at the Cheese Factory for lunch along with coffee at the Sunflower Cafe. My favorite was a shop that went by the title ‘Love Sonoma’ where I found a few cute items. The best part about the place was the lady working there who went by Amy. Amy, Lizzy, and I talked for what seemed like an hour. We told her all about our vacation, and our upcoming summer plans. Then she shared suggestions, advice, some stories. Exchanges like ours with Amy are one of the wonderful pleasures that I most enjoy about life. What an amazing thing when you are able to genuinely connect with others, despite being strangers, and you can enjoy each other’s personalities and experiences, it is quite beautiful.IMG_1058IMG_1296

After we had decided that we were all exhausted from a long day we made the gorgeous drive home. We spent that night getting ready to go home the next day which included packing and some cleaning. Once we had finished we relaxed for our last time near the pool, each with a book.

 

July 19th (The day we depart Cali)

Another early morning called for a quick breakfast as I had one more coffee shop that was on my mandatory to visit list. After leaving we made a stop at City Garden on 4th Avenue. Here I enjoyed a ‘Lover’s Lane Latte’ which had Lover’s Lane Honey and was dusted with bee pollen. Lizzy ordered the ‘Garden Latte’ with lavender and rose syrup and was garnished with rose petals and lavender buds. Along with her coffee she ordered their Guittard Chocolate Donut which are made fresh daily with locally sourced ingredients. We took a few photos, had a few sips of our coffee (or if you are me you finish your own and then sip the latte that Lizzy didn’t finish), and we were off to the airport. The drive through San Fransisco left me in more awe than it had on the way in. I was so flustered by the fact that I was in California on my first day that I had not truly taken in the sites. I love the busy city of San Fran. I had been there a little over a year ago with my choir and it was as amazing as I remembered. So many sights, so much cultures, a city of dreams… and fog.IMG_1114

Eventually we made it to the airport, and with another flawless experience making it through the airport to our gate, we safely landed in Minneapolis that night and I immediately suggested we have dinner at Whole Foods (duh), and then went home. That night consisted of reuniting with my parents, my dogs, and my bed. And the hellos were all very quick due to the fact that I was back to work at Caribou the next morning.

 

There were a few things that I took away from my short but sweet trip to The Golden State:

  • If you want something to change, you need to make it happen. No amount of sitting around Hibbing, feeling sorry for my small-town self, was going to get me to California.
  • Take time to get to know the people around you, they all have stories to tell. I had gone years of seeing Sandy, but had never really talked to her. She was always my great aunt, now she is a lady who I see as one who has both seen and done it all. I was granted advice and wisdom in so many areas of life: school, family, romance, traveling, Christianity… and to think that it had always been residing in her, yet I never before took the time to listen.
  • Life does not need to revolve around money. I realize that these days it seems as though you need to have a high-paying job to really experience life, but that is not the case at all. Although I did spend some savings in the boutiques that we visited, and we went out to eat quite a few times, most everything else that we spent our vacation doing were relatively low-cost activities, or even free ones. If you are able to budget well, and be a smart shopper, you can make money stretch quite a bit farther than you may think you can.
  • Take time to smell the roses, and be thankful for them. I cannot tell you all the amazing sights that I saw on my trip that weren’t mentioned, and that I did not picture, because they were unexplainable, and couldn’t be captioned by even the world’s best camera. It takes an eye that is looking to see the details sometimes, but they exist. Not only do they just exist, but they were given to us by God. He created this world for us to enjoy and to see His glory.
  • You and your siblings WILL grow up to be best friends. Everyone always told me this, but Lizzy and I fought so much as kids I thought the idea of even staying in touch after becoming adults was funny. However, as we have gotten older, and I have been able to work through the wall I built around myself throughout my last few years of life, I have realized hey were right. No one can ever come in-between the bond that is built between siblings. It is a strong one that is truly unbreakable.
  • And lastly, always stop at every coffee shop you see!! One reason this is one of my favorite things to do is because not only do I love the beverages, but the experiences. Most cafes tend to be each their own. They are like people; every one with its own personality. I love to go to new coffee shops as they all have their own story which are told by the baristas, the regulars, the decor, the vibes of the shop, the beverages themselves, even all the way down to the uniqueness of the different cups and sleeves you will find at each one (which I have a collection of at home). I base my favorite shops off of the experience I remember having along with the coffee I remember drinking… and of course, the pictures that I am able to get, which is dependant upon how good the lighting is at the shop.

 

All-in-all, I had an amazing experience in California! I was blessed with seeing so many beautiful sights and got to learn so many lessons. I am looking forward to my next upcoming vacation to New York City, which is the gift I am receiving as an early graduation present from my mother! I am excited to experience the East coast, as I just did the West, and learn all the lessons that will be taught there as well. Until then, I plan to use what I have learned and continue to grow.

Doing What You Love, Loving What You Do

So often I feel I hear others saying that they hate their job, or they hate the sport that they are involved in, or they are not a morning person yet continue to set their alarm for a 6 am wakeup call. I can totally relate to those feelings, as I am sure most people can! So why do we allow them to come to us so often? Before I continue on I want to put out the fact that, yes, I do realize that there are some things in life, such as school, that no matter how we feel about it, we just have to do. Life does come with some different factors that we just cannot control, but what about all the rest that we can control?

Everyone has the exact same amount of time. We all get 24 hours in a day, 7 days a week. How we decide to use this time however is totally up to us. I used to be a busy-body back just a few years ago. I would be involved with four sports at a time, youth group, Girl Scouts, Knowledge Bowl, Math Masters, a few other clubs, I was on the honor roll, you name it. I lived like this for my elementary days and pretty far into my high school days as well. Back during that time, that schedule worked for me and I enjoyed how my life was being spent! However, fast forward to today, and I would be surprised if you were to find more than two scheduled events on any given day. Not to mention I am only in a few organizations, and I only take around one to two exercise classes a week. Aside from these scheduled events, I do regularly exercise, read, bake, spend time with family and friends, etc. However, it is all on my own time, and I do it when I feel that I want to. This is what makes me happy. There are people who thrive off of being busy all the time and others who don’t. I now enjoy slow days doing things such as going to coffees shops to read, which I never had time fore before. My point here is to thrive off of what you love! So often people spend their time trying to do things the don’t enjoy. For example, as I mentioned earlier, many people will say they hate the sport that they participate in. So why do they continue to do it? Why spend your time doing something that you don’t love? When I was transitioning from my busy life into this more laid back style, and was in basketball, it was consuming me. DAY AND NIGHT I had practice, or a camp, or needed to be shooting or lifting. Then one day I realized: for what? Why am I spending all my time on this sport? I was miserable in games and practices and dreading spending any spare time with it. So why was I wasting my short amount of time that I did have trying to master this sport that I hated when I could have been reading (which I love to do), or spending my time elsewhere?

One person that has always inspired me in this area of life is my sister Lizzy. She is not a morning person, and she knows it. There are so many people I know that, despite not functioning well in the mornings, they continue to try and set their alarms early to get things done. Then when their time comes that they normally thrive during, the later hours, they are groggy and cranky, but not ready for bed. However my sister doesn’t do this. She requires quite a lot of sleep, and instead of trying to get up early, she always allows herself to sleep in or at least sleep as late as possible. She embraces who she is. I believe that our society needs to learn to function more like that. To embrace who you are and how you like to spend your time. If you like something, then do it! If you aren’t enjoying something, or even if you don’t like some type of food, then you don’t have to continue doing/eating it! Just because someone else likes to do a particular activity, does not mean that you also need to like it. Or just because your doctor tells you that carrots are good for you and that you should eat them, if you think they are gross, then don’t waste your hunger trying to choke them down! Instead enjoy the banana that you are craving!

The time that we have is so miniscule, despite what it may seem. So I am proposing that you take an afternoon and sit down with yourself, maybe with a pen and some paper as well. Ask yourself this: What do I like to do? Am I doing it? If so, rock on! If not, what am I doing with my time? Am I forcing myself to be someone I am not? Doing things I don’t enjoy? Trying to please others? If you have found yourself in this trap that so many other people find themselves in daily, then I suggest that you make some changes. You should do what you love, and you should love what you do. You should be able to embrace who you really are, and be able to truly say that you enjoy your life and the way that you are spending your time. This life is flying by, don’t wake up when you are an adult wishing that you hadn’t spent your childhood the way you did. Instead, wake up knowing that you pursue your passions and lived the life that was meant for you. Wake up knowing that you did, and that you are still doing, exactly what it is that you love and what it is that God gave you a passion for in this life.

Cinnamon-Roasted Veggies

If you are familiar with my Instagram account @balancingserena, then you would know that my diet is FULL of vegetables because I love them! I have always thought of vegetables as a savory food… but I have found a way to incorporate them in my meals as a sweet factor! I have become obsessed with roasting them in the oven with cinnamon!! It is such a simple process that can be used on soooo many different vegetables. If you try this, I can promise you that it will turn what many see as a ‘boring’ ingredient into the game-changer of your meals! All you have to do is follow this simple list:

  • Preheat your oven. I usually set mine around 400 degrees. However, I know people that set their oven to 350, others at 450… It is up to you and your oven!
  • Then I prepare my veggies. That normally means I will wash them, chop any that need to be, and then lay them on the pan.
  • After I season them. I always use Chosen Foods Avocado Oil spray to start. After I spray my veggies, I will either choose to add cinnamon, pink himalayan sea salt, or both**.
  • Last I stick them in the oven! The amount of time that your veggies need to roast will differ depending on the veggie, your oven, the temp you choose, and your preference as to how soft or crispy you would like them to be! A general rule of thumb that I like to live by is to stick my pan in for about 15 minutes and then I will check whatever is in there. At this point my food is usually ready to be flipped and put back in for about 10 more minutes. Some veggies will require a bit more time if they are bigger, thicker, etc.. It is always a bit of a guessing game!
  • After they are done I take them out and allow them to cool completely before putting them in the fridge, otherwise they will become soggy!

**The veggies that I enjoy roasting with cinnamon for a sweet effect include carrots, sweet potatoes, some types of squash (such as acorn), and even sometimes zucchini! Of course there are some veggies that I love to roast that I do not season with cinnamon because, well, I just don’t think it would turn out well. Those can include broccoli, peppers, some squashes (such as spaghetti), brussel sprouts, and so many more. I also suggest trying sweet potatoes, carrots, and zucchini to be roasted without the cinnamon, they are good prepared with just the avocado oil and salt!

We are all aware that when you roast your veggies in a savory way that they can become an ingredient or apart of your meal… but what about when they are roasted with cinnamon? How do you eat them? My favorite way to enjoy these sweet treats are in yogurt bowls with some fruit, peanut-butter, maybe some granola, etc. You can also enjoy them the way you would normally without the cinnamon and they are just as great! There are endless ways to get creative with your vegetables. Healthy eating can be so much fun and delicious, it doesn’t have to be hard and boring! It is all dependent upon your mindset and wether or not you are willing to take the time to prepare them! I hope this was able to spark some ideas so that you now feel like running to the kitchen and having fun while fueling your body in a healthy way!

 

Getting Out of a Rut

“Nothing in nature blooms all year long, so you cannot expect yourself to do so either”… A quote that I always refer back to anytime that I am going through a rough patch in my life. Lately I have been struggling with lack in motivation when it comes to my workouts, my schedule, my hobbies, basically everything… It just so happened that the rut I was going through came just before I was leaving to go to camp for a week as a counselor. I have been counseling at Storybook Lodge Christian Camp for a few years now. I enjoy being and working with other teenagers to help spread the gospel to young kids more than anything. When I am at camp, my life is totally different from when I am at home. I left on Saturday morning for a graduation party, spent the night at that friend’s house, then proceeded to leave for camp then next day and returned home the following Saturday. So for about a week I was living a life that was unpredictable and not in my control. As absolutely scary as it may sound, especially if you are like me and love to have a schedule and plan everything out, I couldn’t be more thankful for my past week.

I am used to always being able to workout, make my own meals, spend my time the way I like, check social media anytime I feel like it, not socialize if I feel like being my introvert self, going to bed early because #grandmalife, and not really going out of my comfort zone. This last week, however, all that was different:

  • I did not have time to do any workouts, as a counselor I am up at 5:30am and have a schedule that brings me all the way to 10:00pm.
  • I do not get to prepare my own meals. When you are at camp, you eat whatever it is the kitchen crew prepares for everyone. There was a time when I would not eat anything that I hadn’t prepared myself or would not eat ‘unclean or unhealthy’ foods. I am no longer in that mindset, I just eat real foods that make me feel good! Most of the times the kitchen serves amazing meals that have healthy options… although I would be lying if I did not say that there are times when there is a meal such as hotdogs, or pizza, or something that I know doesn’t make me feel good, or that I know is full of ingredients that I do not enjoy, so I would go into the kitchen and take some leftover chicken or whatever was in the fridge and make my own plate.
  • Camp is a very scheduled place! There is almost always something for you to do or a place for you to be… so I never really get to choose what it is I want to do like I normally do when I am at home.
  • When you are at camp, especially as a counselor, you are surrounded by other people. There is at no point when you can decide that you are just not going to not socialize for a day. Every time you open your eyes there is a camper there asking for some candy or a fellow counselor wanting to go get some coffee (an absolute must as a counselor.)
  • One of the biggest shocks of leaving home for a week is that I wasn’t able to use the internet at all. I get no service on my phone in the area that I was staying in. I would not say I spend a lot of time of my phone normally… however I do check my texts a few times a day, I like to listen to podcasts while doing things, I enjoy watching YouTube videos while getting ready for the day, and I normally will scroll through my Instagram feed a few times and post once a day. When I am at camp, there is no access to that for me. I did have a friend who allowed me to use his hotspot a couple of times so that I could catch-up a bit on Instagram before some of our morning counselor meetings when we had both arrived early… but otherwise, my phone was basically a camera for the week.

Like I mentioned earlier, the thought of knowing that this week would bring all these changes was not a fun one for my Type A personality, but the joy that I experienced from the break has been so worth that discomfort. Before this schedule shock, I was really feeling just so ‘blah’ about everything. Have you ever felt that? It is never a fun feeling to have about things that were exciting things just weeks ago. But due to the fact that I was forced to take a break from my normal routine, it allowed me to just rest and enjoy life. I now feel refreshed! My body has gotten so much rest and feels amazing, I got to switch up my meals a bit, I have gotten to talk to so many more people than I normally would not have, I have been put out of my comfort zone is so many different ways that I would not have ever experienced in my normal life, I was forced to stay up a bit later than normal and switch up my routine… There were so many benefits of this past week of changes. However, not only did I enjoy all those aspects, but they have also sparked a new fire in me. I was able to be given a chance to miss my normal routine at home, and now I appreciate it more than ever. Ever since being home, (for about two days haha), I feel a new motivation and drive that wasn’t there when I left. I woke up this Monday morning bright and early and had a great breakfast, walked my dog, had an amazing time spent with the Lord in my Bible, I got some summer plans set, I am writing this blog post, later I will be having lunch with my father, then I have therapy, after I plan to get some cleaning done, and then I am so excited to finally get a good workout in! Not having done so much of this for quite a span of time, it makes it so exciting to get to do it! I have decided to limit the amount of times I am even near my phone, but when i do check it, it makes me so excited to see what all my friends have been up to!

So what exactly is my advice to you? It is that if you are in some kind of rut, no matter what it is, take a break. Take some time off from your norm, or switch it up, try something new.. Just do something different for a while to give yourself time to rest and recharge and to focus on something else in life for a bit.. And eventually you will be ready to come back to that thing and you will be more excited and motivated than ever before!

Self-Care Ideas

As many of you know, I am a huge advocate for taking time for yourself!! Self-care is such an important priority that so many people neglect now-a-days. We live in a go-go-go society where we are always participating in some activity or another, and rarely remember to just slow down and enjoy the quiet moments. I used to always be like that, I wouldn’t ever take time to rest until it was literally time to go to bed. When I was living like this though, I was always tired, I wouldn’t ever check-in with myself and ask myself how I was feeling… I wasn’t ever aware of my own needs. But now-a-days: I literally set apart time in my daily schedule to do take part in some kind of self-loving act!! By doing this I have become a much happier person and have become more in-tune with myself and with my needs! Today I decided to throw together a post with some ideas of different ways I like to show myself some love and hopefully allow you to get some ideas as to how you can take time for yourself as well!

 

  • Walks + Podcasts

The first of a few different forms of self-care that I regularly take part in are walks! Ever since the snow melted, I have started finding some time everyday to get outside for a stroll. I normally take my dog with me as well (he is in the photo at the top!). Most of the time I like to put in headphones and listen to a podcast! Some of my favorites include Food Pysch, The Balanced Blonde, Actually Adultish, Bulletproof Radio, and The Chasing Joy Podcast! I love getting out of the house and connecting with nature. There are some days when I don’t even bring my phone. I love to just take that quiet time to be mindful and spend sometime with myself, reflecting on all the different things going on in my world! This really allows me to connect with what is going on around me and what is going on in my mind as well. It also allows me time to relax while getting some fresh air and some sunlight!

 

  • Journaling

This one is a big one for me! I have allows been a girl who is on the more ‘sensitive’ side, and by that I mean I have lots of emotions! There was a time when I would bottle them up and not express them anywhere…which was a huge mistake. Now-a-days, I like to take out my journal every single morning. I write down anything big that happens, any thoughts I have, anything I am feeling, any ideas that pop into my mind, basically my whole life is recorded in that book! Writing down my feelings has become such an amazing way for me to get them out there whether I am feeling happy, sad, mad, stressed, etc. It allows me to express myself and feel as though that news isn’t just sitting on my shoulders waiting to be heard.

 

  • Reading

I have always loved to read, so this is a great one for me as well. Allowing myself that time to relax, sit down, and just tune into a different world is a game-changer.  I love to read mostly nonfiction books, as I am a big nerd when it comes to learning. Giving myself time everyday to just be able to absorb new information that I did not know beforehand is something that makes me so very happy and calm. If you aren’t a big reader, this one may not be for you.. But if there is something else you like to do such as just listening to some music or watching the daily news, but don’t normally allow yourself the time to just sit and do that, I suggest that today is the day you try it!

 

  • Face Masks

Along with this one could be any type of spa treatment that you enjoy whether that is painting your nails, doing a hair mask, maybe taking a warm bath, or perhaps it means going to an actually spa! I think literally taking care of your body, or pampering yourself every once-in-a-while, is so important! Everybody in this world is there own special person, and everyone deserves to feel that way as well! Our bodies are constantly working so hard to fuel our daily lives that I believe we should work at appreciating that by giving them the TLC that they deserve! Doing face masks on Friday nights while watching New Girl and eating a yogurt bowl has totally been my jam lately! It gives me time to relax and to thank my body for all it has done for me throughout the week, and it is such a great way to spend the night verses going out to a party and drinking! (Although if that is your jam, by all means!)

 

  • Treating Myself to Something

This one is a bit more on the ‘creative side’, meaning it is going to look different for everyone! By treating myself, I mean spend a little extra money that you normally wouldn’t so that you can enjoy something that you normally wouldn’t! For some of you this is going to mean finally buying that pair of shoes that you have been eyeing up forever! For others this will mean going to your favorite bakery and ordering an expensive latte and delicious brunch that you don’t usually like paying for. For myself, this always varies. Sometimes it is when I decide to purchase a more spendy book that I have been dying to read, or it might mean giving myself permission to tap into the money I have been saving to get a massage that I am long overdue for! Whatever it is that you really love, but don’t normally allow yourself, I am giving you permission today to go and spend that little bit of money. In the end, you only get to live once, so why not enjoy this life and allow yourself a gift every now and then!

 

There are so many other ways that I like to take care of myself by doing such as going to bed early some nights, powering off my phone for a day, baking, and many other things! Every single one of you might have a list that looks completely different, and that is perfectly okay! The point of self-care is to take care of YOU. Find whatever it is that makes (insert your name here) feel amazing, relaxed, important, and loved, and do that thing! I hope that I was able to maybe give you some new ideas to add to the ways in which you care for yourself, or maybe I was able to convince you to finally just set-aside some extra time for some self-loving practices! Where ever it is you are at in life, just know that you are important and you deserve all the love and support that you give to others every single day!

 

 

My Life as a Barista

As many of you might know, I am a barista at Caribou Coffee. I just recently, in April, had my one year anniversary as an employee for the company, and I am now going on 13 months! I have only ever had two jobs, this being the second one. I get so many people asking me all the time what it is like to be a barista, so I have decided to talk about my job and why I have stuck with it for so long!

 

Before I get into the topic too much I want to address something. In my opinion, I believe that being a barista at a ‘chain’ coffee company, or a franchise, is much different than the life of a barista at a hole-in-the-wall coffeehouse, or a coffee shop. I have never worked at what I would consider to be a genuine coffeehouse before, however I have been to MANY (of which I eventually plan to do little reviews on), know a few people who have worked at one, and have also read many blogs written by baristas from them! In my opinion, and do not get me wrong, I still love the coffee that I serve and I am very passionate about making each cup a work of art, but I believe that franchises are all about being fast and making money. Whereas a coffeehouse spends time to do the little extra things such as putting your coffee into a beautiful mug and making a unique design on top. They are not so worried as to how long it takes, they are more about really making each cup of coffee to be as beautiful as possible (such as the lattes that are featured in my image at the top of the post. No, they did not come from Caribou…they were the lovely beverages my friend and I enjoyed from Black in Minneapolis a bit ago. They were amazing for anyone who might be curious to know!!). Franchises also tend to have hundreds of options, many do not even have any coffee or aren’t tea related at all! However when you get to a coffee shop, you will only find, for the most part, your very basic and regular caffeinated beverages such as a latte, a cappuccino, along with a few alternatives such as a smoothie or a cocoa steamer along with some teas for the individuals who aren’t about that caffeine life.

 

I have three different occupations that I would consider pursuing when I am an adult. The first, and more practical, is becoming a registered dietician or take up something in the nutrition field. The second would be to really devote myself to my instagram @balancingserena along with this blog and possibly make them my full-time career one day! However, the third option that I do not tell many about, for no particular reason, would be to open up my own coffeeshop. I would love to own my own business and become a full-time barista. I would never want to work at a franchise where I do now, nor would I ever want to have to deal with a drive-thru (aka my worst nightmare) again. I would want to open up a little shop that serves amazing coffee drinks, maybe makes some fresh pastries, and is a place to go that will bring you good vibes. It will be a place where you feel welcome. You will feel as though your beverage was crafted especially for you each and every time by someone who really cares and takes that extra minute to make your chai the best one you’ll say you’ve ever had, every time you come. I would love to do this because I am so passionate about what I do.

 

So what is it like to be a barista? Why do I love it so much that I fantasize about doing it as a full-time career option one day? First I would like to mention the negative sides of the job. With every rainbow that you come across, there was a rainstorm that preceded it. So of course with a wonderful job, you are going to have those negative aspects that are there as well.

  • Being a barista can be exhausting, in many ways. The first way being because it is quite the mental game. Especially working at a franchise where we have hundreds of drink options, that is hundreds of recipes you have to memorize. Of course, it gets easier as time goes on, but I never fail to have a day once-in-a-while when I question if I remembered to hit grind on the beans or if I never even poured them into the grinder in the first place. It can also be physically exhausting as well. When you get hit with a rush, whether that be the early-morning crowd rushing to work, or the Sunday afternoon church crew that are getting their caffeine fix after a long service, it can be tough. As I said earlier, we also have a drive-thru at my store. So this means there can be days where we have a line of customers weaving throughout our narrow entrance and a line of cars outside just as long weaving around the building. You can imagine this gets to be chaotic at times. Throw in a shortage of employees, or the occasional episode of running-out-of a staple ingredient such as vanilla or mint, and it becomes a barista’s worst nightmare.
  • The other downside to working as a barista can be the customer aspect. Now don’t get me wrong, this is also one of my favorite parts as well!! But I will mention that side later. When it comes to customers, you will occasionally get some that tend to be more difficult to work with. Sometimes you might get someone insisting that they want a latte with caramel and want to add some whipped cream on top. That beverage, equivalent to the Caramel High Rise that my store makes. When you try to tell people that though, they will insist that they don’t want your Caramel High Rise, they want a latte with caramel and whipped cream… Okay mam, whatever you’d like. You also get customers that can never be pleased. I have had times where I have had people ask me to re-make their beverage two or three times, have another employee make the same thing, and still walk out unhappy. Or maybe you have a customer that is furious because you cannot make them a certain item or use a certain product such as coconut milk, because we simply do not carry it. There is never a shortage of problems that a barista has to deal with when it comes to working with the public, especially considering many customers may be cranky and they are coming to us in the first place to receive their morning caffeine so that they can function normally!

 

You might be able to ask another barista, and they might be able to tell you many other things about their jobs that they despise. But for me, those two factors are the only ones that I have ever had as a reason to complain about my job. The best part is that I have many more reasons to love my job than just two. That is why I am so passionate about being a barista, I have found so many different aspects of the career to love and appreciate that I simply don’t have reasons to not love what I do!

 

  • First of all, I love the knowledge that I have gained. Honestly, before working at Caribou, I knew almost nothing about coffee. I knew that you put in water and grounds, and out comes black liquid. Now that I have been working at Caribou so long, I have become so much more educated on coffee. I have learned the types of drinks, how it is made, the origins of many coffees, what it takes to perfect roast, I have learned about the different ways in which coffee can be made…there are so many different things that I am now knowledgeable about that two years ago even, I would have been scratching my head at!
  • The love of coffee has got to be hands done one of my favorite perks of being a barista. Now I am not talking about your fluffy drinks with chocolate, caramel, whipped cream, candy pieces, and few shots of espresso with milk….I am talking about real coffee. I do love my lattes, and my mochas, but I never used to be able to sit down and enjoy a cup of black coffee, without at least enough sugar to a point where it wouldn’t pass a coffee DNA test. But when you spend countless afternoons having to make, talk about, work around, smell, and taste a certain beverage, you learn to enjoy it. I do not only enjoy it, but I also appreciate it. I appreciate the benefits that coffee can have such as the antioxidants, I appreciate the aroma that I now associate my peaceful, quiet morning times with, I appreciate it for so much more than just the Cup-of-Joe that some people consider it to be.
  • The benefits of working where I work are also something to be mentioned. As an employee at Caribou, I receive quite a few. I get a free beverage when I work plus a discount when I stop there as just a customer. It has definitely helped save me money! I also receive some free coffee grounds, or tea bags, each week. There are many different perks that being a barista can get you versus just being the girl ordering on the other side of the counter!
  • The community is hands down my all time favorite reason ever of being a barista. If this was the only positive part of doing the job that I do, honestly, it would be enough. I can not tell you how many countless people I have been able to meet through working where I do. Yes, I have befriended all my fellow coworkers, but so does everyone else at all other jobs. I am talking about all the people that I have met that are coming through for a cup of coffee. If you were a tourist, you might not ever make an effort to stop at McDonalds on your way through Hibbing, but coffee? Most people are always down for that! There are so many different characters that I have had the pleasure of meeting that I have never seen again. There are also the regulars that I see all the time. Many are people I always used to see, the difference is that we now know each other’s names and each other’s stories. We have a relationship and a friendship that was not there before. It always brings me so much joy when I see familiar faces walking through the door of the shop. I also get to see many friends, and even some of my family, more often than I might have if I had just been sitting at home. However, when I am there serving them coffee, or taking their order, I have an extra chance to say hi and see how they are doing! Being a barista has caused me to become much more of an extrovert. It has also allowed me on any given day to walk out of my house and almost always know the people that I run into at the store or on the street! I have the opportunity to touch other’s lives and try and make their day with a smile and their favorite beverage. I am also touched many times when a customer smiles back at me and thanks me as if it means the world to them that I was so polite or that they now have something delicious to sip on!
  • The coffee is another amazing perk.. duuuh! This is a bit of a mix between the benefits of working at Caribou along with the appreciation for coffee that I have inquired. I mean, the fact that I work at Caribou Coffee has just opened up so many more opportunities for me to really get a good cup of caffeine. Maybe I need to run in to check my schedule, or stop by to just say hi to someone I know is working that day. Those are both reasons that I never had before to stop into Caribou. There are so many more excuses along with those that I am now able to use to make my way to the store!  And of course, as you can imagine, I do not think there has ever been a day when I walked in without walking out with a cup of coffee in my hand (unless I finished it while I was there.. Even then I will usually get a refill though, or get a different beverage to go).
  • Connecting more to who I am is another benefit that I have reaped since becoming a barista. I do not know how many of you have experienced this before, but the moment that I was given the job title ‘barista’ something clicked. I felt like apart of me was finally becoming who I was meant to be in a way. When I got that dream job, or the best job I could think of as a high-school sophomore living in a small town without many opportunities, I felt as though it allowed me to start embracing other parts of myself. I started slowly realizing that it was okay that I was more of an introvert. I realized it was okay that I tend to usually be the girl who does her own thing and does not always fit into the crowd. I was able to be accepted into that environment, verses my regular high-school environment where I normally felt out of place, I was treated as equal as everyone else. I could be Serena.

So when people ask me why I love my job, why I would consider serving others a cup of coffee for a living, this is what I tell them. I do not think that just any old soul off of the street has what it takes to be a barista, or at least not a good one anyways. Yes, maybe anyone can make a cup of coffee, but it takes passion and dedication for someone to turn that cup of coffee or tea from just a beverage into an experience and a moment to be savored. When you go to a real coffeehouse that possess this rare and amazing quality, you will know. That is what I like about being a barista. I do not just like making coffee, but I love creating beverages that tell their own stories and hold their own meaning.

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Here is my favorite photo of myself enjoying a cappuccino at Kunnari’s. It was pre-grey hair, but I love the smile that I am wearing. I believe that is what every cup of coffee should bring!

Living Beyond Fear

Let me be completely honest with you guys.. I am a creature of habit. I do not like to step out of my comfort zone. Don’t get me wrong, I do love new adventures, but I also love knowing exactly what is going to happen and how it will happen. I am a very Type A girl. In fact, I have a Passion Planner. For anyone who doesn’t know what that is, it is a brand of planner and it is so amazing. It allows you to plan all of your days in half-hour increments. As I bet you can imagine, I plan my life with that little book…The point I am trying to get across from you is that I would rather do something that I know the outcome of, verses doing something that is a complete mystery. Just a few days ago I was talking with my therapist about this subject. I was telling her that I was sick of not trying out all the activities and fun opportunities that I dream of because of the fear I have. We began talking about this because lately I have been determined to really find myself. After being out-of-touch with who I was for so long, (you can read my post about finding balance if you’re curious as to what I mean about this),  I am finally starting to find that amazing person again. The question however: Who is she? And what does she enjoy doing?

So the other day I had an afternoon to myself. My family was working, my friends were at school, my dog was asleep, and I had nothing to do. I was feeling really motivated, I really wanted to get something done. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself though, everything that I knew I used to enjoy just didn’t seem like something I could do at that moment…and so my afternoon ended up being one spent watching New Girl on Netflix. So later that night when I was feeling guilty about the wasted motivation, I started to brainstorm about what I used to enjoy doing on a free day, something I could have spent my time doing. I used to love to experiment in the kitchen! Trying to come up with my own recipes, or just testing out other people’s recipes! But I was so quick to dismiss the idea, even though I had a pantry full of ingredients and a kitchen just waiting to be used. I also used to love writing (a passion that I have clearly, quickly revisited). But at the time I was sitting there thinking that I didn’t want to write (despite having a large list of possible blog post ideas that I have in my journal and have been trying to find time to write). I have also always loved learning. Despite having a large math test to study for, I sat there thinking that I did not want to touch my book.

I told my therapist about all these different things that I could have possibly done, yet did not. Now don’t get me wrong, lazy days are a must!! Everyone needs to rest once and awhile! The problem wasn’t that though, it was that I did not want to be lazy. I felt like being productive, yet I could not get myself to do anything. So she was asking me why I didn’t try writing, or baking, or studying. At first I told her that I had no clue. In that moment I just felt like I wanted to do something, but not those things. As we talked it through, it became a lot more clear: I did not want to do any of those activities I loved, not because I ‘just didn’t want to’, but because I was afraid to fail. I was afraid to try a recipe and have it not taste great. I was afraid to write a post, and get writer’s block. I was afraid to continue studying my logarithms, and not understand them, as I hadn’t the day before. But what kind of life are you living if you only ever dream of doing the things you love, but you never actually chase those aspirations?

If you spend your whole life on this planet only thinking and not doing, well then you’re wasting your time. The thought of failing can be scary, but if failing is the worst that you can really do, is that something you should allow to stop you from pursuing your dreams? I wanted so badly to test out some new recipes, yet I allowed my fear of failure to stop me. So what if I failed? Maybe I end up with some loaf of bread that doesn’t taste so good, I can just try again the next day. Even if it did fail, I had that experience in the books. I can still say that I tried and that I did something that was worth spending my time on. Can you imagine if I had succeeded though? Then I would have a yummy treat that I could devour and maybe share with my family (if I was feeling generous…). I do not understand why I have allowed fear to rule my life for so long, why anyone lets fear rule their life. Our time on this earth is so minimal and so precious. We need to learn to spend our time wisely, because ask any adult and they will tell you that before the blink of an eye, you are going to be seventy years old asking yourself what you did with your childhood.

I don’t know about you, but I do not want to waste the limited time that God has gifted me with. It could end in a day, or in a million, but I have no clue. So I decided the other day, while sitting on my therapist’s couch, that I wa going to make a decision that day that I would begin from that moment on to live my life by. A decision that would allow me to wake up one day and feel that I did all that I could to get the most out of this life:

 

I am going to stop allowing fear to rule my life. Instead of making decisions based off of my emotions, I am going to start making them based off of my values.

 

Now first things first, you need to figure out what it is that you value in your life. What is most important to you? This is not a simple question…in fact, it took me an hour and a stack of about one hundred cards that each had one value written on them. Out of about one hundred possible things a human could value in their life, I took time to figure out which ones were the things that I found most important; the ones that defined me, define who I am, what I believe in, how I want to live my life. Those are what I am going to start living my life by.

So what exactly does this look like for me? Well, I have quite a list of different values that I put together. Some people value a few things, some values many, and that is okay! That is what makes us all unique! To give you some ideas as to how to live by your values, I chose a few to tell you about:

  • I value both passion and creativity in my life. Instead of basing my decision to not try out a new recipe for fear of failing, I should have decided I want to try one. Why? Because I value being creative and having passions. By getting in the kitchen, I would be fulfilling my love for creativity while pursuing a passion of mine! Instead I let my emotion of fear to decide that I was to stay out of the kitchen incase I didn’t make a tasty dish.
  • Another thing I value is purpose. Using my love of writing or my love of learning and acting on those in that moment would have been me making a decision based on that value. I would have been acting out of purpose. I believe we all have been given a purpose by God, and so to live out that has always been something that is important to me. However, like I mentioned before, I allowed fear to make my decision instead of my values.

I hope after reading those you now understand what it looks like to make a decision based off of your emotions instead of your values. Now I would like to leave you all with some thoughts, and a bit of a challenge. Do you want to keep allowing your emotions to control your life? The emotions you feel, the thoughts that come to you, the results of what you do are all things that you can not change. You can not change the fact that things might feel scary, or that your brain conjures up scary thoughts about the outcomes of trying something new, or that living your dreams could mean failure in some aspects. However, you can change the actions that you take. Instead of allowing yourself to choose your normal, old, beaten, path that has the same outcome…that path that, no matter what, will end up at a safe destination, you should try and choose the path that hasn’t yet been traveled. Make a list of what you value most in life, and decide that from now on you are going to use that list to live your life. Live your life, and make your decisions, based off of what you love, off of what will bring you joy. That is my challenge for you. I challenge you to allow whatever thoughts or fears might come your way to come. Instead of allowing them to make the decisions for you however, you need to only allow them to be there, only to be present. You need to allow that fear to come in, it is an emotion, and it is only healthy to accept all emotions. However, I want you to stop letting the fear overtake you. Allow the emotion to be felt, but do not give it the power that you have been granting it for so darn long. You have to say to your emotions that you accept that they exist, and that they are apart of you….however, that is it! They are no longer what will be running the show. Instead they get to stay silent while you now allow your values to be the ones who make the decisions for you. You will start making decisions like deciding to forgive a friend for a wrong they have done. You are afraid that if you do that they will continue to use that against you, but you value forgiveness. You also value your friendships and want them to stay as strong as possible. It might look like this, or it might look totally different. But whatever it is at the end of the day that you go to bed at night and can truly say you’re living your life for, and is important to you, please start making your decisions based off of those factors. I can promise you that if you begin to live your life that this, that one day, you are going to be able to wake up and say you are proud of what you have accomplished. You are proud of how you spent your life, and that you wouldn’t chose to ever do it over again.