Things I Love Right Now: Podcasts

I’ve been a fan of podcasts for awhile now. Storytelling, listening to people have conversations (friendly and/or intellectual), and learning something new have always been appealing. When my family moved to the States from London, my parents discovered public radio, and constantly listened to it. I’ve found comfort in public radio in my adult life. Not only is it often interesting, it reminds me of my childhood.

With podcasts, this allows me to listen to a lot of my favorite public radio offerings at my own pace. Of course, there are so many other podcast options out there aside from public radio offerings. I have a huge collection of podcasts in my Overcast library. Variety definitely is the spice of life! I must say, I have a couple hundred episodes to listen to at this point, and I am totally okay with that.

A few of my favorites are somewhat popular and probably don’t need too much of an introduction. Others might be completely new to you.

Dear Sugar
Everyone is gaga over Cheryl Strayed, and rightfully so. She’s insightful, caring, honest, and witty. This podcast was born from the Dear Sugar column in The Rumpus. Basically, both the column and the podcast are akin to Dear Abby. The difference is that Dear Sugar is raw, a bit brutal, honest, and incredibly helpful. I love hearing Cheryl and Steve Almond offer sage advice to people who write in. The letters that they get are exceptional, and the responses are equally amazing.

Ladies Who Lunch
This is a weekly podcast done by two YouTubers, Cat Valdez and Ingrid Nilsen. I stumbled across it, as I occasionally watch Ingrid’s YouTube channel. Sure, I’m a few years older than both ladies, and the content is definitely geared towards Millenials (I stick to my guns when I say I am Gen X). The content is still great, and it’s wonderful to hear two women have an intelligent conversation about a multitude of topics, including the election, our bodies, and dating.

#GoodMuslimBadMuslim
I love this podcast simply because offers such a positive insight on Islam. This is a podcast everyone should listen to, Muslim or not. Taz and Zahra are hilarious, well spoken, and downright awesome. I downloaded the first episode soon after it was published, and did so out of sheer curiosity and with the hope to enrich my own life. We all should expose ourselves to ideas and cultures that are different from our own. This podcast allows me to learn a little about Islam and Muslim culture, and hear from intelligent, thoughtful women.

2 Dope Queens
If you aren’t listening to this podcast already, please do. Seriously, stop reading this post right now, and download as many episodes as you can or want. For those of you who are unaware, this is an awesome comedy podcast lead by Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams. In this podcast, comedians of all genders, ethnicities, and sexualities are featured. I absolutely love and need this podcast. This is absolutely necessary on bad days, as I know that I’ll get a giggle. I mean, if you want free stand-up, this is right up your alley. And, I think we should be supporting women of color.

Not By Accident
The first episode of this podcast was featured on another podcast, Strangers (which I love, for the most part). I love the format of this podcast. It is a audio documentary of a single woman, who happens to be gay, getting pregnant and having a child. Sophie Harper’s story is very touching and inspiring. With every episode, I am reminded that I can do many things I put my heart and mind to. Also, I am reminded that it never hurts to ask for help. Sure, this podcast caters to a specific audience, but it really is worthwhile.

Stuff Mom Never Told You
There is one huge reason why I listen to this podcast: learning. There is a never ending slew of topics Caroline and Cristen talk about, some of which I know and understand. However, this is a basic jumping off point for getting inspired to research a multitude of topics that are female (cis- or not) related. My one gripe is that the two women hosting this podcast are cis-gendered and Caucasian. With that said, they do their best to be impartial and educated with the information they are talking about. They cite their reputable sources, which is incredibly important.

These are the ones I listen to the most frequently. If I am all caught up, there are a few other podcasts I’ll listen to, which I often reserve for commutes, cooking, or moments I need a giggle.

What are your favorite podcasts? What are you obsessively listening to? I love recommendations!

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 Nobody’s Perfect.

The thing about depression is that, while everyone experiences sadness and grief, those of us who are actually depressed get frustrated when people tell us it will pass. It often doesn’t. We’re lucky if we have one day in a long string of months in which we feel normal and can actually contribute to society in an acceptable manner. It’s also very frustrating when people are shocked when we actually seem genuinely happy. That diminishes our identities and is a huge hurdle we have to deal with.

I’ve known I’m not wired to be happy for two decades. Twenty years is a long time.

Here’s the thing: one can say that they don’t understand how anyone can be depressed. Well, those of us who struggle every single day to force a smile when we’re screaming on the inside can’t understand how people can be happy all the time. And, us depressed folk, we are highly functioning people. I’ve managed to stick around for twenty years. It’s been difficult, but I’ve made it work.

Describing depression isn’t an easy task. We all experience it in very unique ways. The general idea of it is the same, but we all cope with it in our own ways.

“Depression doesn’t define me.” and “I’m a real person with real value.” These two stand out. While depression is one of many parts of us, it isn’t who we are. We have plenty of things to offer this world. We are well aware of this. While it can often be challenging for some of us to be motivated to shine, we have the ability to. Instead of being stigmatized, we need to be loved equally.

There are great resources out there for those of us struggling with some sort of mental health spark. [I use the word spark, because issue, disease, and disorder each hold such negative connotation. Spark, for me, is a happy word. It is a motivating word in my life.]

If you live in a town or city with a public library, I highly suggest utilizing it. Depending on the town or city, there is usually a good selection of self-help books and books about mental health. Remember that not all self-help books are created equal. They often have a bad rap, but there are some great books out there, I promise! I suggest books on mindfulness, creativity, and other task based guides.

I know that it’s often difficult to find the strength or motivation to get up and move. But, movement really does help. If you live near a park, walk there with a book & some tea or coffee. Sit & read, breathe in some fresh air. Attempt to smile at three people. Then walk home. This helps me find some momentary peace.

If you are a college student, use the health services your school fees pay for. Many higher education have mental health services. They are staffed by a few licensed therapists (who are often professors at the school) and graduate students who are training to become therapists. It is an affordable way to get some counseling. If they don’t offer counseling, they are well connected to resources outside the school, and are able to assist you finding affordable therapy.

Also, research graduate schools in your area. Often graduate psychology programs will offer affordable group therapy or other affordable forms of care.

If you are religious, connecting with religious leaders are a great resource. They are usually trained to counsel individuals as well as lead a congregation. They are also able to direct you to proper venues for help.

My last suggestion is to search online for “affordable online therapy.” You’ll find a decent list of (legally operated) websites that offer counseling done online, usually through private chat or video.

I hope this helps everyone! This only scratches the surface, but it’s a start. If you know someone with a mental health spark, please educate yourself. If you experience a mental health spark yourself, I hope this motivates you to reach out for help.

Please remember that I am not a licensed therapist or doctor, nor do I have a Ph.D in psychology. I am speaking purely from my own experience. Always seek out the help of a licensed professional.

Vegan Living 101: Beginning

For a good portion of my life, I’ve been a quasi- to full-blown vegetarian. Seafood was the first thing to go, and I can’t even remember the last time I ate anything from the sea. Chicken was the last to go. For 11 years, chicken was the only meat I consumed, and, while I only ate it once or twice a year, I felt guilty doing so. For the last seven years, I haven’t touched any kind of animal flesh. However, I do occasionally have a splash of milk in my coffee if I’m at brunch and don’t want to make a fuss. I’ll also have the occasional bit of cheese and I’m trying my hardest to breakup with milk chocolate.

Soon, I’ll be living by myself, like I did just over a decade ago. This will be perfect for me to fine tune my vegan cooking skills. The only person I’ll have to feed every day is myself, so I can have complete control over the food that is kept and the food that I eat.

For those of you who don’t understand what veganism is all about, the simplest way to describe it is: a choice to abstain from any animal product or byproduct in everyday life, including nutrition, clothes, household items, cosmetics, and personal hygiene products. (The link provided is the Vegan wikipedia entry, and I feel like it does a good job explaining concepts.)

This means that the diet a vegan eats is completely void of anything that falls under the animal classification, including their excretions. One thing that drives us crazy is when a veg*n (an umbrella term that is inclusive of all vegetarians & vegans) gets asked “but you still eat fish, right?” This is a question that we get asked constantly and often results in some fierce eye rolling or a gobsmacked laugh. Sometimes, we’ll be blunt and ask “were you asleep when your fifth grade teacher taught you about animal classification?” Other times, we’ll be kind and say, “thanks for asking, however fish are technically animals, so we abstain from eating fish,” while screaming on the inside.

Here is a list of things vegans get asked if they eat, but don’t:
1. Fish/Shellfish/etc.
2. Honey
3. Poultry (this one really baffles me)
4. Milk/Cheese/Eggs
5. Anything with gelatin in it (i.e. most gummy candy, anything that is a mass produced gel)

I live in a part of the States that considers itself progressive and liberal. It was a hotbed of counter-culture activity in the 60s & 70s. Even with the runoff from that, I find that people are really confused by the concept of veganism. When having a discussion about it, I have found it turns out that people are confused by even the concept of vegetarianism.

So, a series of blog posts is born! I’m going to share a few posts that cover a variety of topics regarding veganism. These posts will include (and aren’t limited to) pantry & fridge staples, vegan candy, vegan cookbooks, vegan cosmetics & beauty products, vegan fashion, misconceptions, personal meal plans for 1, 3, and 7 days, and my favorite recipes.

Please contact me with any questions or possible topics you would like me to cover. Also, please know that I am not a nutritionist, chef, or MD. The information I am giving is purely from my own research, discussion with other people who live a vegan lifestyle, conversations with nutritionists & doctors, and my opinion. I’ll will be citing the information that I give you & will clarify if something is an opinion. If you don’t like or agree with my opinion, I do ask that you remain respectful in your approach. Part of veganism is respect for fellow beings, human and non-human.

Happy trails!!

Working Retail

How many of you enjoy going to the mall for a few hours to shop? A large number of people do. That’s one of the reasons why malls still exist.

The thing is, people often forget that the people working at the mall aren’t all young idiots. There is a growing contingent of well-educated Gen Xers and early Millennials who lost their jobs sometime between 2008-2010 and have had a hard time finding solid, full-time employment in their chosen career field since.

Working retail is heartbreaking, and sometimes very demeaning. Especially for those who have college degrees. As we live in a world in which we need do need money to feed, clothe, and protect ourselves, well-educated people will resort to menial retail jobs while looking for full-time work. Now, there are some people who make a career of working retail. And, the last ten years, I’ve worked retail. Seven years ago, I had the hope that I’d grow within the company I work for and the possibility of growth was dangled in front of me without actual promise. That’s why I buckled down and told myself to go back to school and do something productive with my life. I felt that the act of me going back to school was taken as a sign of defeat from managers at the company I work for.

“If you want to work at corporate, why did you make yourself less available by going back to school?” and “There is no time to develop you as you’re only here two days a week. Can you change that?” Both are questions that had a simple answer of “you have had seven years to develop me, which was a constant request on my part.” Truth of the matter is that this is an entire combination of me trying too hard and getting disheartened when my hard work never paid off, and management not spending the time to truly get to know my strengths and see my hard work.

Enough about me. Let me get to the real point. As I’ve said, those of us who work retail are not idiots. Sure, you’ll come across some less than stellar people whilst out shopping. However, the majority of us are wonderful, insightful, caring people. We don’t like being treated poorly, and no, some of us can’t just quit if we hate the way customers treat us. Many retail employees, like me, are there to pay some sort of bill, whether it be student loans, a second mortgage, car insurance, rent, or tuition, etc.

The things that customers put us through is enough to make any happy, stable person cry. We would love it if every single customer that we interact with, including the awesome ones, spend a year working at our store. In fact, I am in favor of giving all of the on floor employees a month-long paid vacation and have customers man the store while we are gone. Business probably would fail, I don’t doubt that. But, it would be a great experiment and valuable lesson for everyone who shops there.

The best way to describe how we are treated (or perceived):
each sales associate is a special hybrid of two-year old from a non-English speaking country and the CEO of the company.

We are spoken to as though we have never heard a human speak before, we are constantly told we are wrong (especially when we are right), and yet, are expected to have the right answer for everything (ie. what the customer wants to hear), know every little detail about how the company as a whole works, and have the authority to change any detail about our store that hundreds of customers don’t like.

We know how our company works in a broad sense, and as well as it pertains to our store. We are able to work with what our company has given us. And, we will do our best to go above and beyond for our customers. Our company has provided us with the tools to get you the product(s) you need within reason. But, we don’t have the executive decision to knock down the nine stores within our vicinity just to carry every single SKU that the company sells. We don’t have the executive decision to start selling brands that ceased to exist a decade ago. Our backroom does not consist of a factory or lab or series of offices that our headquarters are located in. If we all had any kind of executive decision-making or say, we wouldn’t be sales associates. It’s that damn simple. If that makes sense to a ten-year old, it should make sense to a university educated 35-year-old.

And, if I have to hear “I want something that is 100% natural, organic, and not manmade” and “I need something completely chemical free” once more, I might just scream. Most of the stuff you buy that isn’t food is not 100% natural, nor is it likely to be organic. It may have been processed & put together by a machine in a sterile. Does that process of synthetically making something count as not manmade? (Answer: no.) Oh, and a very minor fact you may have missed in fourth grade chemistry: everything you know to exist on this planet has some sort of chemical structure. So, asking for something without chemicals in it is physically impossible. Stop acting as though two hydrogens and an oxygen bonded together is going to kill you.

If you are going to be rude, fine. We’d rather you not be rude to us, as that’s just unnecessary. We don’t need to be treated like idiots. Our request is simple. Please, stop assuming that we get paid enough to make magic happen. And, a smile never hurts anyone. Neither does “please” and “thank you.”

If none of this makes any sense, I have an idea. Consider yourself. Imagine spending eight hours a day having someone expect you to give them everything you own, then expect you to give them more. Imagine them never asking politely or showing the slightest shred of gratitude. Imagine being asked to explain something you understand immensely and have studied for years, then be told that everything you have said is wrong. Imagine people yelling at you for absolutely no reason. Imagine people stealing money from you. Imagine going home with swollen ankles, having to do housework of your own and caring for your own family. Imagine having to do that multiple times a week.

Working retail is not thrilling. We work hard for very little money. And, while we have plenty of fantastic customers, not a day goes by without having to deal with unpleasant people. We’ve cried because of customers. We’ve felt threatened because of customers. We’ve had to leave halfway through our shifts because of exceptionally unreasonable customers.

Be kind. Be patient. Be mindful. Be aware. And, please, for the love of all things good in this world, know that you are sharing this planet with other human beings. So, stay classy and treat others exactly how you expect others to treat you.

Gift Ideas: Graduation 2015

Many of you have people in your life who have just graduated from high school and college in the past month or two. All of these mark important stages in their lives. Giving a gift is commonplace, and should be done with the best of intentions. These gifts should be useful in the graduates’ lives.

Both men and women should be well prepared as they start searching for jobs. Part of getting the job is looking well presented.

For those who like to wear suits (men & women), I love The Tie Bar. This is a wonderful site that has a plethora of styles to choose from: bow ties, skinny, regular, pocket squares, belts, etc. And, seeing that Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family) has a bow tie collection featured, I have a feeling that this company has a somewhat openminded outlook on life. Now, remember, men aren’t the only people who wear suits (including ties). Many women do, too. And, if I worked in an environment that had a business dress code, I’d wear a tie every so often.

The Tie Bar: Jesse Tyler Ferguson Tony Awards Bow Tie

Being dressed well is important, and accessorizing is part of that. Having a great bag or briefcase polishes off a “Hire me please!!!” look. Buying a quality bag or case for someone can be tough if you don’t really know their style, or even if they want to avoid leather. I personally choose not to buy leather, and feel that it is safe to do the same when buying gifts for people. Matt & Nat is an amazing Montreal based company that produces beautiful and ethical products. They have gorgeous, simple, stylish bags, briefcases, wallets, laptop cases, etc. all of their products are animal byproduct free, opting to use high quality faux leather instead. I wish someone would buy me a messenger bag or briefcase from this line!

Matt & Nat Lesson Messenger Bag

Jewelry is always a nice gift to give. Having a few simple pieces of jewelry, like ties and shoes, help complete an outfit. As I’ve said, looking polished is one of the many parts of getting hired. Chloe+Isabel is a great online jewelry retailer. They offer classic pieces, as well as seasonal collections and fun, costume jewelry. I am a huge fan of many of their rings and studs. In fact, I am obsessed with their Brilliant Crystal Ring, and wear it almost every day! My style is very simple and understated, however I am tempted to purchase some fun statement pieces myself! [Let me just clarify that I am a merchandiser with Chloe+Isabel, and through this, this helps me with extra income. Any purchase you make through the link I have given you, I make commission. I would love it if you purchased some jewelry, but don’t expect you to. Please, only do so if you see something you or someone you you know will love!]

Chloe+Isabel Brilliant Crystal Ring

Here is a gift I wouldn’t mind getting: a book subscription box. I love reading, and I like getting recommendations that are unheard of. Book Riot looks like such a fun gift! Every three months, the recipient receives a package with a couple (or more) books and other book-type stuff (notebooks, pencils, pens, water bottles). This is a great gift for anyone, especially those with extensive bookshelves. And, I feel that reading is a lost art these days. I’d love to see a wave of people getting back into reading.

For those of you who know people who are movers & shakers, another great option for gift giving is monetary gifts in the form of donations. Find out what charities or social causes your giftee is interested in, and do some research. Many charities and organizations have great incentives for gift givers, including access to events, literature, etc. I know that I would be thrilled if someone made a donation to one of the many organizations I support. JustGive is a great database of many charities/organizations that you can search. This gives you an option to figure out which is the most suitable place to make a donation.

*As per FTC Guidelines, all opinions are my own and I will always clarify if I am paid for or gifted items for anything I write. I choose not to write about anything if it is not a product or service I believe in. If I have been given something to try and I don’t like it, I won’t write about it. If I have been paid to write about something, it is only because I am interested in & support what I am being paid to write about. Thank you! In this post, my Chloe + Isabel boutique is a possible way to make money, but I only ever make a commission if someone actually makes a purchase through my boutique. Everything else is purely my opinion and I received absolutely no incentives to write about any of them.

What’s In My Bag: College Edition

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a few months shy of an Associate of Arts in Paralegal Studies. I spend a lot of my week reading cases, writing briefs, and carting my life between home, work, and school. I have a tendency to live out of a backpack or large bag. Ever since I’ve needed to have my computer with me most days, life is a lot easier with a bag that’ll haul it around safely.

I’m currently using a Western Pack backpack, one that I’ve used for year. It’s got enough sections to make storing things easy and efficient. And, the part that is against my back is padded, which allows a bit of safety for my computer.

So, what do I have stowed in my bag?

The simplest items are my keyring and my wallet. It has a fob with a Shakespeare quote, my front door key, my car key, and a key for the lock I use at the gym. I recently downsized my keyring and am so happy I have done so! I’ve been reprimanded for not using a wallet, so I’ve forced myself to use one. Sure, I can see why it’s safer, but it still drives me crazy. Being the tomboy that I am, I usually like just carrying one card, my license, and a few dollars.

My parents were amazing and got me an iPad air for Christmas. I didn’t think I’d love it, but I do. This awesome device goes with me most places. I love having it accessible in case of waiting moments. I have a few books stored on it, a couple magazine subscriptions, and some Mr. Selfridge episodes. This makes travel time seem less tedious. Also, it’s great when I’m at the gym and opt to workout on the elliptical or bike instead of run.

Of course, my iPhone 5c is in there. Honestly, I miss the days of simple cell phones and wish I never made the smartphone leap. I do love the fact that smartphones are a lifestyle efficiency tool, and it’s great to have access to, what seems, the entire world at the tap of a finger. With that, I have a USB cord & USB wall adaptor. Usually, I have an external battery, but it is at home due to being charged earlier today.

Of course, I have my iPod with me. On lunch breaks, at the gym, walking places, doing chores; these are all times I love listening to music or podcasts. I feel engaged when I’m listening to good music or a funny podcast. I also love informative podcasts, too. Having my iPod accessible gives me the chance to feel engaged in the world, even when it is just me.

Depending on the quarter, I can be on campus anywhere from 7 hours to 11 hours per day. I’m not a huge fan of school cafeteria food, especially as I am a vegetarian. My options are limited and usually to dodgy looking salads and french fries. So, I like to keep some sort of small, nutritionally dense snack on hand. I’m addicted to salty cashews. Today, I’ve got a small bag of cashews waiting to be eaten when that 4.45pm slump hits.

Stemming from a few years of school in England, I’ve always been in the habit of using a pencil case. I still like to switch mine up every year or so and do have a couple going at all times. Right now, I have an illustrated one with cat faces on it. (Yes, I’m a proud cat lady.) In it, there are a plethora of ball point pens, mechanical pencils, a couple sharpies, and some paper clips. And, I have a mini leatherman in there, too. It’s come in handy quite a few times.

I keep forgetting that I have two fragrance rollerballs in my backpack, and am always happily surprised when I see them. The ones I have are Bobbi Brown’s Beach fragrance and LaVanila’s Vanilla Summer fragrance. As you might be able to gather, I like warmer fragrances. I always love any fragrance that has vanilla, coconut, pineapple, and even notes of Coppertone Water Babies SPF in it. Bobbi Brown’s Beach reminds me of being a child and being slathered in Water Babies.

Of course, I have two spiral bound notebooks. I always have something ready to take notes in while at school. I’m old school and learn better if I actually write lecture notes down. Typing has never proved an efficient way for me to truly retain information. At home, I do have a stack of partially used spiral notebooks and I definitely need to organize them. So, the notebooks I have in my bag are leftovers from last quarter, and I am determined to use them up. I have promised myself I won’t buy any more until I’ve used up the ones I have.

Speaking of spiral bound notebooks, I have my journal in my backpack. I’ve been working on this journal for five years and have a bad habit of going through phases of writing almost everyday to months of not writing, hence the fact I’ve been using the same one for five years. I like to keep it with me at all times, though. I’m not a fan of snooping eyes. I’m open with plenty of things, but my journal is for things I need to release without sharing with anyone else.

I do have a book in my backpack that has nothing to do with school. It is a book that I keep wanting to check out every time I go to the local library. Who knows if I’ll get around to reading it before it’s due, but I have it with me in case I am compelled to. It is Locas by Yxta Maya Murray. This book takes a look at Mexican women involved in gang life in East Los Angeles. First and foremost, I am actively trying to learn Spanish & am interested in working with immigrants from Latin America. So, this is one of many books that should be included in my learning process. I always love reading stories told from the female perspective, and as this is a life I am not familiar with, I hope this will be an enlightening read.

Lastly, I have five empty Lush Fresh Face Mask pots. They have been sitting on my desk for awhile, just waiting to be returned in exchange for a new mask. If we are let out of class early enough tonight, I am going to try and go get one. I want to try their Cupcake mask, but fear that I won’t use it very often, as I’ll only use it across my nose & cheeks. I might stick with Oatifix, as I know I like it and it’s easy to use.

What’s in your bag? Do you have three separate bags you constantly use? Soon, I’ll be doing a What’s in My Gym Bag post & What’s In My Purse post. Be on the lookout!