Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 New Years Resolutions

In grad school, I learned about BHAGs, which stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goals. BHAGs were coined in the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies and technically apply to companies, but I think are applicable to individuals as well. These goals are often externally questionable, yet regarded as very possible internally. Because I've always been a goal setter, I think that compiling a list of BHAGs is important. I'm a huge fan of crossing things off lists as well, so the idea of setting huge (and often intimidating) goals is fun and fulfilling for just that reason.

On the contrary, I've heard that setting goals isn't good because it can discourage people from accomplishing things in life if they consistently fail to accomplish the goals they've set. My opinion? Do what is best for YOU! Personally, I'm a very motivated person and driven by my own accomplishments, so I think goal setting works well for me. Plus, because I enjoy self-reflection and self-growth, I like to look back on the year (or whatever time frame) and discover what worked and what didn't and let that guide me in the next set of goals.

I dubbed 2012 the Year of Christina. This past year, I focused on all the things that make me happy and eliminated those that didn't. A couple of my goals last year included the following:

-Take at least one big, out-of-the-country trip and frequent mini trips every 6-8 weeks
-Find a job that I love that fulfills me
-Eliminate toxic friends
-Organize my photos and create a photo wall of my favorite memories
-Explore new hobbies/creative outlets
-Increase mental, spiritual, and physical strength
-Embrace being single and work on becoming my best self

Of the goals I set for 2012, I completed a majority or at least made great strides in doing so. I don't see it as a failure that I didn't complete every resolution. Instead, it serves as a building block for this year. For 2013, I am going to build off 2012 as a foundation and name it the Year of Turning Up the Love and No Excuses. Each resolution I've set for the upcoming year has been well thought out and serves a significant purpose in my life, whether it be because it makes me happy and fulfilled, it helps me feel better physically and/or mentally, and/or it allows me to express my creative side.

Here's a list of 2013 goals I've created:

-No sugar!
-Learn how to cook and then cook every meal possible unless going out for a special occasion
-Start gardening, even if it's just herbs at first
-Bike as much as I can for transportation
-Do yoga at least once per week
-Be active everyday- find fun, nontraditional ways to burn calories (e.g. dancing while cooking!)
-Live in the moment and appreciate the now
-Go on one adventure everyday, no matter how big or small the adventure
-Don't hold back or do things based on other people's opinions
-Tutor kids and be a positive influence in their lives
-Be open to love
-Live simply

I really believe 2013 is going to be a great year, just like 2012. I've learned so much from the past year that I cannot wait to put into practice in the upcoming year. Wonderful things are happening and I'm excited to go along for the ride.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lesson of the Day: Live in the Moment

Something I've always struggled with is the ability to live in the moment. From the time I was a kid, I always had a Plan A, B, C, D, and E for everything. I lined up options for every scenario "just in case." The worst part of all this was that I felt restricted by my own boundaries. I would get anxious and miserable when I had to follow the plan I had set out, especially because of my inner need for adventure and spontaneity.

As I get older, I find that the more I plan, the more things fail to go my way. When I force things, as soon as I stop exerting pressure, it falls apart. Whereas when I let things happen and just set an intentional path, good things automatically happen. As I reflect back on my trip abroad, I've noticed I've become more relaxed in my approach to life and because of this, great things have happened.

For instance, before I traveled to Australia and New Zealand, I would stress just at the thought of what type of jobs to line up, where to live, where to visit, and what to do. For the first month while I lived in Brisbane, I thought this way and quickly realized I wasn't going to enjoy my time abroad if I continued to worry and stress about every little thing instead of living day by day. Then, when I met up with Diana in Melbourne, she taught me the very important lesson of how to appreciate the now.

Now, instead of waking up and planning everything, I wake up and think to myself, "Today is going to be a great day filled with adventure and amazing people that will help guide me to where I need to go." I know it may not be your cup of tea to script your day through affirmations, but it's helped me become more at ease and appreciate every moment of every day.

Friday, December 28, 2012

So Fresh and So Clean Clean

"F*cking sh*t! F*CKING SH*T NOOOO! Guys, we have a problem."

As I sat on the bottom of the bunk bed in our hostel in Auckland, New Zealand, I just so happened to glance over at Ashley's open suitcase just as a bug crawled across a reusable shopping bag situated on top. My heart dropped. I knew instantly it was a bed bug. AND I could tell it had been feeding by the size and color of it. Diana and I captured it in a coffee mug and brought it down to the front desk. Our worst fears were confirmed. The staff at the hostel handed us bug spray and told us to empty out our suitcases as well as wash or spray down absolutely everything we owned, even the clothes on our back.

For the next 7 hours, we washed every single piece of clothing in our suitcases. Load after load of laundry went into the machines. Imagine three extra large suitcases, one carry-on sized suitcase, two backpacks, and two weekend bags of clothing and items to sort through.

At one point we arranged it so that the last load we put in the machine was the clothing we were wearing. As we stripped down to nothing in the laundry room, we fished out already clean clothing from our newly washed loads. At this point, not much was done, so it was slim pickings. I ended up in a "going out" dress; Diana opted for a purple tennis skirt and a hot pink tank; and Ashley sported black workout shorts and a see-through white tank. We were definitely a sight to see.

We sprayed down our empty suitcases with a strong bug killer on the rooftop deck. As we waited for the bags to dry, we began to sort out the clean clothes and all of our non-clothing belongings. For the better half of an afternoon, we took over a large portion of the deck with our stuff. To keep calm as well as help the time move quickly, we listened to a Friday Funday CD and danced around. At one point, we started to auction off our possessions to the people out on the deck so that there was less to repack. A pair of moccasins and a Friday Funday CD were in the mix of randomness given away.

I probably should also mention that the rooftop deck was on the seventh floor and it just so happens that the elevator was broken that day. So now, imagine us lugging our stuff up and down the stairs. Mind you, each of our big luggage pieces is easily over 50 pounds.

Another curve ball of the day included a formerly white button up from J. Crew and a formerly off-white linen shirt from Lucky brand turning Easter yellow. The button up was completely destroyed, while there's still a small possibility of me being able to rock out the linen shirt, just in a different hue.

Through all of our mishaps today, each of us remained calm and kept a smile on our faces. Even if one of us had broken down, the day would have went significantly worse. As we finished up re-packing our suitcases, a guy named Cory from Canada approached us and commended us on our ability to find the positive in this situation and to do it with a smile on our faces while cracking jokes. He was thoroughly impressed with our optimistic demeanor.

We received a refund and found a condo rental around the corner from the hostel to stay in that night. The condo ended up being only $10 extra per person per night, but in addition to NOT sharing sleeping quarters with complete strangers (aka strippers from The Mermaid) we now also had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, washer and dryer in unit (too bad we just washed everything we owned!), full kitchen, pool, gym, and gorgeous views of the harbour.

There are a couple life lessons I've learned today:
-The importance of team work. Diana, Ashley, and I were able to handle the situation given to us today because we were there for each other the entire way through.
-I can't get attached to physical possessions. If a shirt or two gets ruined, so what? I'm thankful for my health and the pure fact that the three of us are alive!
-Nothing bad happens to us...because we don't let it. It's up to us to respond negatively or positively to each situation given to us. We are the only ones that can control how a situation ends up.

Screw you, bed bugs! You're not ruining our trip that easily...

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Kiwi Christmas!

For the first time in my 27 years of existence, I spent the Christmas holidays away from my family. Instead, I had a friend-family Christmas in Queenstown, NZ. The best part of celebrating Christmas in Queenstown? Spending it in flip flops and a bathing suit at the beach!

To start off Christmas Eve in a positive light, we did a Christmas edition of Friday Funday. Afterward, we rode up on the gondola to go luging. The courses are set above Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables (mountains). The views were absolutely gorgeous and it was a beautifully clear day--see views below!

Holiday spirit was in full gear for us. We wore our reindeer antlers while luging and raced down the curves of the course, usually taking the turns at full speed and only on two of the four wheels. We tried to time the photos taken throughout the course to make as many funny faces as we could. Yes, we're in our mid- to late-20s and act like kids. But hey, isn't that what life is about? I think everyone should embrace their inner child and feed its need for adventure and fun :)

We continued our holiday festivities with a gift exchange with our new NY friends we met the day prior. We pulled names and agreed each person could only spend $3 OR regift something from their suitcase. I pulled James' name and regifted a pink martini shaker and gave him a cutout snowflake (like the kind you make as a kid in school) and a wallet-sized photo of me and a koala (ha!). Mike gave me a New Zealand notebook with a pen and light so that I can write down blog ideas any time, day or night. I loved it! Mike is also a blogger, so he understands how adamant people like us are about getting posts out to the public in a timely fashion.

When our gift exchange was done, we all walked over to Pier 19, which is situated on the "Steamer Wharf" of the waterfront and enjoyed coffees while we overlooked the water and setting sun. We sat on a couch and enjoyed the perfectly warm evening air, while having a great life conversation. James and I talked about happiness, travel, love, and the power of positive energy. The best thing about having conversations with different types of people is that it helps me realize what makes me happy and what I'm looking for in the future. Out of this conversation, I realize I need to end up with someone that is adventurous yet responsible. I sometimes find that I get one or the other. It's all about finding a healthy balance in which people bring out the best in each other. I've noticed in more recent times that I seem to be attracting fun, positive, genuine people in my life and I want it to remain this way when I go back to the States. It's so easy to fall back into the same routine with the same people upon return, but then that negates all the personal growth acquired abroad.

After coffee, we went to Below Zero Ice Bar near our hostel. I went to a bar with a similar concept in London five years ago when I studied there and loved it (mostly for the photo opps!). When we arrived, somehow I ended up with the penguin costume instead of a parka. How does this happen every time?! Love it. I couldn't see anything, but enjoyed every second of it. The Asian women in the bar when we got there took heaps of photos with me and kept saying, "Cute! Cute!"

Ashley, Me as a Penguin, and Diana
The Fab Five...USA! USA!
To finish up Christmas Eve, all of us went to midnight mass after Ice Bar. I haven't been to church in such a long time, but it was nice to go with a solid group of new friends. It makes me realize how appreciative I am for all the people I've met on this trip and how each has had such a positive impact on my experience abroad.

On Christmas Day, I woke up early and Skyped with my family. Then, they took family photos with my face on the iPad. Such a great idea! I miss them, but to be completely honest, because of the hot weather I don't feel like Christmas even happened this year.

My brother Dave and his girlfriend, Meghan, and my parents!
For the rest of Christmas Day, the girls and I spent our day at the beach soaking up the New Zealand summer sun. It was the most laid back Christmas I've ever had. This type of Christmas celebration put the following into perspective: I think sometimes people put too much emphasis on the holidays when in reality, this type of celebration can be done any time of year. I'm not sad I didn't get to spend it with my family because I know when I am in Chicago in March that we will have a Christmas-like celebration just as good, if not better, than the real thing. It also makes me appreciate the time I get to be with my family even more. Because I've always lived near them, I took for granted the time I had with them. Now, I can fully appreciate how lucky I am to have the family that I do.

Merry Christmas, everyone! Below a video for you all to enjoy; Ashley, Diana, and I wanted to share our Queenstown experience with you all.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"If You're Dressed as a Banana and Eating a Banana...Is This Considered Cannibalism??"...Monday Funday, Christmas Edition

Due to our roadtrip in New Zealand from Christchurch to Queenstown on Friday, Friday Funday did not happen. Instead, Diana and I decided to do a special Christmas Eve edition and call it Monday Funday for the week. We were going to skip the week altogether, but decided this was a poor decision since Diana and I would be parting ways in a little less than two weeks. We knew we had to carry on the tradition as long as we could before then.

Our original costumes for Monday Funday included reindeer ears, but unanticipated events Sunday night led us down a different (and very appropriate) course. On our walk home from the bars, I spotted someone smoking in front of our a banana costume. I coerced him into lending me his costume for Monday Funday. I promised to return the costume unharmed and ensured that it would make the day of the hundreds of people that would pass us the following morning at Monday Funday. He obliged. I could now add "banana" to my list of costumes this trip, which already include "beer bottle" and "dinosaur."

Monday morning, we woke up excited to dance! We told our new friends, Mike and James, to meet us near the waterfront in Queenstown at 11am for a fun surprise. For lasting stamina during Monday Funday, I ate a banana while dressed as a banana before leaving the hostel.

We decided that dancing near the waterfront in Queenstown would be best because people would be walking by to do last minute shopping and enjoying the gorgeous weather. Ashley was our Guest Dancer of the week and really added to the experience. Here's us with our youngest fan:

Then, just before 11am, Mike and James popped by after seeing me in the banana costume from where they ate breakfast. They were impressed with my negotiation skills with the owner of the banana costume. I'm not quite sure myself how I always seem to acquire these costumes, but I am in NO way complaining...

The boys joined the dance party and all five of us danced for the next hour or so and yelled out, "Merry Christmas!" to all that passed. I'm pretty sure with all of the Asian tourists recording our dance moves that we're on some Asian website somewhere...score! As we danced, our favorite Patagonia ice cream truck guy, TJ, saw us and doubled over in laughter. I've said it once and I'll say it again...people love costumes. The more random the costume, the better.

Pyramid on the waterfront
Be You and Guest Dancers!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Fly Through the Air With the Greatest of Ease!...Oh, And Moon Pumping

"If you want to act like a kid...JUST DO IT!"

On Sunday (the day before Christmas Eve), Diana, Ashley, and I went to a trampoline warehouse in Frankton (a couple kilometers outside Queenstown, New Zealand). Our whitewater rafting tour guides from the previous day lined up an hour-and-a-half time slot for us in the afternoon. They promised the experience would be both unique (since most people in Queenstown do the stereotypical adventure activities) and heaps of fun. Upon arrival at the warehouse, we threw off our shoes and socks and hopped on one of the five trampolines in the building.

There were about five other participants at the open gym and the average age was 10. I'm pretty sure Diana, Ashley, and I were the most excited participants and I would not have put it past us to throw some 'bows to secure ample trampoline time. One of the trampolines led into a foam pit, three were more extreme trampolines (proof: Diana could touch the ceiling of the warehouse while bouncing on them), and the last was a traditional backyard trampoline (which we found no one used because compared to the others, it pretty much sucked).

Since most of the activities we choose depend on whether they are great photo opps, we made sure to capture as many of these priceless moments on film as possible. Below are a few of my favorites:

Diana's frog jump into the pit
Me looking ever so graceful 
Ashley doing some intense martial arts, slow motion moves...or so it seems
Air High Fives!
After more than our allotted time on the trampolines, my body ached but I could feel myself perma-smiling. Do you know how free and kid-like it feels to be on a trampoline?! For nearly two hours, we were able to forget our responsibilities, fears, and anything holding us back and embrace the carefree mentality of a child while sailing through the air. How could I not smile?!

Feeding off our trampoline high, we cruised down the waterfront on our way back into Queenstown. What we thought was a two hour hike back turned into much more than that (about 10 kilometers, just over 6 miles), so we hopped on a bus instead so that we could get back into the city centre before the New Year. But we made sure to get a good family photo before getting on the bus:

Still can't get over the views!
When we finally got back to Nomads (hostel), all of us were falling asleep as we ate our lunch/dinner. Diana and I fought through our exhaustion by hanging out with some new friends in the common area as Ashley napped. Our newly acquired New York friends, James and Mike, then convinced us to go out for a couple drinks at a bar around the corner. After a few glasses of wine, a game of pool, and one of the most randomly hilarious conversations (Me: "If you were a mustache, what kind of mustache would you be?"...James: "One like this!"**draws out a mustache around his mouth and chin, then proceeds to travel down his neck and onto his chest**), Diana and I discovered that Mike and James were the male versions of us.

We all concluded that we needed to stick together the rest of the night and rock out in Queenstown. We ended up at another bar where we started both a karaoke and dance party. The employees and customers had no idea what hit them. Crowd (or maybe just our...) favorites included obvious choices of Toto "Africa" and Meatloaf "I Would Do Anything For Love." At one point, Diana scurried across the bar floor only to fall flat on her butt. And that was only the beginning... Diana and James also invented a new dance move coined "Moon Pumping," in which they moonwalked while fist pumping...quite the feat! I was thoroughly impressed with the new addition to our Friday Funday dance moves lineup.

Moon Pumping in action
A few hours later, hot and sweaty from our dance session, we all made our way back to the hostel for the night, but not before agreeing on having a Christmas gift exchange between the four of us. More on this in a follow-up post... Here's a cliffhanger: we could only spend $3 NZD (about $2.50 USD).

Dance party with new friends!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Whitewater Rafting and Fist Pumps...But Not at the Same Time

Guy at a Queenstown bar: "Did I just see you fist pumping?"
Me: "It's dad is from Jersey."

This comment pretty much sums up our Saturday night in Queenstown. Let's back up to Saturday morning to fully explain how the night got to this...

On Saturday morning, Diana, Ashley, and I went whitewater rafting down the Shotover River near Queenstown, New Zealand. Now let me, again, point out one important fact about myself: I am not a strong swimmer. I've mentioned this multiple times in previous blog posts, but I had to reiterate this fact in order to fully emphasize the magnitude of this issue when it comes to riding down a rocky river in a tube holding a wooden paddle.

When we arrived at Queenstown Rafting, we found out that the trip we originally booked was cancelled due to too small of a group. However, we were upgraded to a route for more "experienced" rafters. The first question they asked us: "All of you are strong swimmers, right?" Me being me, I smiled and nodded.

On our way up the surrounding mountains, our tour guide stressed how important it was that all the people going on this rafting trip be strong swimmers. She then told horror stories involving lost limbs and other ridiculousness, had us look over cartoon drawings regarding how to handle being thrown into the water, and finally had us sign our lives away. I instantly felt my stomach doing flip flops. At one point, she said, "If anyone isn't a strong swimmer, you should really back out now..." I kept thinking to myself, "Is this a sign? Should I back out?" I decided to live by the theory feel the fear and do it anyway and figured, hey, if I survive, I will have conquered yet another fear AND have photos to prove it (who doesn't like a good photo opp?!).

As we got into our wetsuits, my anxiety was high yet I covered it up nicely with my sarcasm and wit. We were put into groups of six and introduced to our raft tour guide, Bob the Canadian. He started us off easy down the river and practiced various techniques to ease the worry and prepare us for the ride ahead. (One of my personal favorites was when he said, "Hold on!" which means to hold onto the rope in front of us and Ashley and I ducked into the spot between the seats of the raft instead while holding our heads down. When we finally looked behind us, we realized we were overly ambitious in our attempts to save ourselves.)

As we floated down the "easy" areas of the river, there were about ten other rafts either ahead or in back of us and each seemed to know "the Chicago girls." I've never had so many people guys make a pass at us with us while wearing SUPER attractive wetsuits, life jackets, and helmets (proof of our attractiveness below). We were literally the talk of the raft trip. It may or may not have been due to the fact that I was on my A-game with witty comments and banter and Diana and Ashley's natural awesomeness. We had multiple invites to go out Saturday night.

Okay, now let's fast forward to Saturday night. There we were, out with all the male tour guides (we decided their invite seemed most fun) when interesting things commenced. The night involved shot skis, performing Gangnam Style both on a bar patio in front of the customers AND at a club (which then started the dance party), white girl dancing to Paul McCarthy's "Wonderful Christmastime" outside a cookie shop (don't worry, I've added it below), and much much more.

We ended up at a pizza place turned dance club called Winnie's, which is where the fist pump incident occurred. One of the raft tour guides saw me dancing (santa hat on head) and fist pumping (both fists) as hard as I could...I then delivered the line above to his posed question, to which he responded with a respectful head nod and smirk.

Spontaneous dance parties seem to be my new past time. I'm definitely bringing it back Stateside!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Earthquake, what?!

As soon as Ashley and Diana arrived in Christchurch last night, I took them over to reSTART, a set of pop-up shops in the damaged centre of town where the earthquakes hit hard in February 2011.

There's probably only about 15-20 shops, so it didn't take us very long to get through. We ended up in a shop with American and British sweets and goodies and began to ask around on what else there is to do in town on a Thursday night. The shop owner seemed confused. Then, a customer (Sue) chimed in offering a few suggestions, but nothing that appealing. However, we started asking her questions about the earthquake and we could tell it was a subject near and dear to her. She recollected what it was like to live through it and explained how the roads literally started rolling up and down like a rollercoaster. The quake lasted 20 seconds only, but even two years later, the city is still in shambles.

From the looks on our faces, I think Sue could tell we were intrigued (and distraught). She offered to drive us around to see some of the more severely damaged areas of town. First, she drove us down the streets she told us about--and they were still terrible! But to be quite honest...Chicago's streets aren't much better and there's been no quakes there... The most disturbing part of the trip was when we saw the desolate streets and houses. Due to the impact of the quake, maybe people were forced to leave their homes. On a handful of houses, we could see the direct affect of the shakes by the pattern in the bricks on the house! It was very New Orleans/Hurricane Katrina-esque.

Then, we drove to New Brighton to see the beach (our first New Zealand beach, I might add!). We all dipped our toes in and it wasn't that chilly, surprisingly! All four of us took a photo together with the beach and pier in the background. New Brighton was hit by the quake as well, but the ocean has a strong tendency to distract from the perils with its own gracious beauty.

While driving around, we found out more about Sue. She is a 51-year-old counselor with the sweetest demeanor about her. She is a firm believer and follower of Christ, but in no way did she try to push her beliefs on us. To be completely honest, I could see her being exactly like us 20 years ago--spontaneous, always up for an adventure, and a genuine lover of life. In fact, when she was younger, she hopped on a ship and traveled the world with a Christian group. She spent many years in various parts of the world and especially loves North 'Merica. She said, "People in America were so helpful and loving to me that I had to pay it forward to you girls!" And you know what? I know Diana, Ashley, and I will pay it forward yet again when we get a chance.

After the beach, we headed toward Lyttleton and Charteris Bay. By this time, the sun was close to setting and the colors in the sky were absolutely gorgeous. One of my favorite types of sunsets are when hues of pink and orange permeate the summer sky and that's exactly the type of sunset that unfolded before us over the hills ahead. We drove under a long tunnel beneath the hills to the port town then wound our way through the hills on the opposite side, often stopping to take photos like the ones attached.

At this point of the night, it was 9:45 and STILL light out...amazing! Before Sue dropped us off at our hostel, we all popped into a grocery store for round two of dinner. As we parted ways, we wished Sue a Merry Christmas and thanked her for showing us her city.

When we set out to reSTART earlier that evening, we had no plans. In fact, we were trying to kill time before going back to the hostel to sleep. We thought, "If we can waste time til 9, we can just get a good night's sleep before we drive to Queenstown tomorrow..." Sue entered our lives at the perfect time and gave us the perfect tour of Christchurch. Had we not met her, we would not have clearly understood the impact of the quakes on this beautiful English-inspired city. I hope to come back here one day and see it prospering again like it did just years earlier.

One is the Loneliest Number

As I sat in a massive park just west of Christchurch City Centre in New Zealand, I could feel the December summer sun take effect on my already reddened, freckled face. I looked around and spotted a guy laying on a bench nearby. I called out to him and asked if he had any sunscreen. He nodded.

I doused my face and body in the stuff. I found out the owner of the sunscreen's name is Sven and he's from Germany. And for the next three hours, we talked about everything and anything that came to mind. Major focus points included Germany's view on America, lessons learned from traveling, and what we both miss about home.

I've always coined myself as an "independent" person and take pride in being able to do things on my own. However, this trip abroad has opened my eyes and changed my perspective toward my independence as well as my interaction with others.

Since being in Australia, I've been lucky to stay with friends or friends of friends in a majority of the cities I've visited. Between my friend Eileen in Brisbane, Kelly and Rom in Melbourne, Natalie and Patrick in Sydney, and traveling with Diana since Melbourne, I've been surrounded by the comfort of a friendly face or two. There's only been two points in my travels I've been solo, including a couple days in Byron Bay and now a couple days in Christchurch before Diana and Ashley arrive from Sydney. Sven has traveled on his own for the past three months and he mentioned something that resonated with me: as he gets older, he realizes he craves deeper conversations and connections with people on a more consistent basis. He said since the start of his trip, he hasn't found many people in which to have good conversations. He also said at one point while he was on a 4-day hike, he didn't talk to ANYONE. I know there are some people that crave solitude, but neither Sven nor I are one of those people.

Because of my love of interacting, all the friends I've spent time with on this trip has engaged in at least one of my infamous heart-to-hearts. While in Byron though, there was a full day when I didn't have more than a small talk conversation with someone. And you know what? It made me feel extremely lonely. Actually, there were a handful of times in Brisbane I felt the same way. Then, I would meet someone that would intellectually intrigue me, thus making me feel alive again.

After talking to Sven for as long as I did my first afternoon in Christchurch, I now realize that constant human interaction is important to me. I love bouncing ideas off people and learning new things from them as well. Yes, I still love my Christina time, but I feel calmer knowing there's an infinite number of people around me I can talk to when I feel the need. Plus, how else do I learn about random things like underwater rugby?! (Yes, it's real!)

Something else Sven and I agreed on is the fact that living out of a suitcase gets old after a month of two. I'm looking forward to settling in one place after the new year and creating a fulfilling life. I give a lot of credit to true "backpackers" that carry all their belongings on their back for a year (Funny story: at the hostel I stayed at in Christchurch, a girl slept with her 50 pound backpack ON HER BACK the night she was here...yikes! Wonder what she's been experiencing while on the road...). I've never been, nor will I ever be, a backpacker. I would much rather visit a place and settle there for awhile than move from place to place every couple days. I want to connect with the places I visit and become a local.

Overall, Sven brought out two realizations within me:

1. To be independent shouldn't necessarily equate to being lonely. In the past year, I haven't dated anyone seriously because I thought it would hinder my independence. In reality, the right guy for me will love that quality about me and encourage it versus smother me. Again, it's about balance.

2. I will no longer just go through the motions of life without purpose. There are too many people to impact positively to waste my time wearing headphones and shutting myself off to the world. I'm sure there are many Christinas and Svens in the world just waiting for someone to approach them, so why not initiate the interaction more often?

Monday, December 17, 2012

On Top of the World!...or maybe just on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge :)

For my final night in Sydney before heading to New Zealand for the holidays, Diana and I climbed the Sydney Bridge at dusk. On our climb up, it was still light outside with gorgeous views of the Opera House. On the way down, the lights of the city skyline illuminated the night sky. Basically, we got the best of both worlds!

The Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened in 1932 after 9 years of construction. It remained the tallest structure in Sydney until 1967, but now the city skylines rises high above this "coat hanger" bridge. The structure of the bridge is held together by 6 million rivets, which were inserted red-hot by teams of four men. These mushroom-topped rivets were tossed from one man to the next across the bridge then pounded in. Supposedly there are tens of thousands of these rivets in the water below from the missed catches. As we walked up and down the structure, we could see the mass amounts of these rivets in the structure. Sure does put in perspective the scale of this project!

Before we started the climb, we met an American family from Florida. The parents and the three boys were about to fly to New Zealand as well, except they were going on a week bike trip where they bikes about 40 miles per day--how cool! I wish my family did vacations like that! I guess that just means I'll have to incorporate with my own family one day :)

When we arrived at the top, Diana and I had our photos taken as well as taped a video on behalf of Be You. (I'll attach it once I'm back on my laptop--it'll make your day!). We started cracking up at the end in fits of happiness and our new American friends smiled from afar.

What we learned from the bridge climb is that Diana and I are very good at experiencing things and sharing them with others. We inspire others to do the things that scare them, thus leading to personal development. can we get paid to do this for a living?! Ideas?

I look at my track record and notice that presents I give, dates I go on, etc. all involve experiencing something rather than material things. I am the Chief Experiential Officer of my own life. Experiencing is the best way for me to learn AND to teach others...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Making Big Waves

This morning, I woke up to a gorgeous Australian summer day. I enjoyed my morning coffee on my friend's balcony overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge and within moments, the sun's warm touch left a golden hue on my skin. I woke up Diana in a fit of giddiness and told her to get ready so we could venture out to Manly Beach.

Before heading to the beach, Diana went to church while I explored the Rocks Market. The Rocks is a ritzy area of the city lined with cozy cafes, restaurants, shops, and bars to feed anyone's interests. I circled through the market then walked along the Harbour toward Circular Quay where we rode in a ferry to Manly. On the ferry, I saw both the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House up close...stunning. The photos don't even partially translate the beauty that one experiences riding through the Harbour.

Twenty minutes later, we arrived at Manly. From where the ferry docks, the beach is still a 5 minute walk or so. When we first saw where we were being docked (not knowing it wasn't at the actual beach), Diana and I were severely concerned...we wondered, where were all the waves?! After a ferry employee laughed at us, he said we had to walk 400 meters to the beach and that we would be impressed..."impressed" was an understatement. I've never seen such large waves in my life!

We walked directly to the boogie board rental hut and rented a board each to brave the overpowering monstrosities of waves unfolding before our eyes. It took us a couple minutes to adjust to the freezing water, but the extreme warmth of the sun helped to nudge us into the water more quickly.

Now the fun/scary part. Let me tell you a story first to set the scene. I am a native Chicagoan, which means I grew up far away from the ocean. And as I mentioned in a previous post, I "failed" out of swim lessons as a kid because I strongly disliked being cold and wet. However, I love the ocean and have found ways to survive while being in it, although I've had a couple close calls. The most intense experience happened in Acapulco when I was a sophomore in college. A group of my friends and I went there for spring break and often found ourselves spending the day in the ocean versus floating around the STD-infested pool. One day, I remember "swimming" pretty deep into the ocean and getting stuck in the undertow. Before I knew it, wave after wave crashed into me and I had a hard time coming up for air. At one point, I remember I looked back, saw a wave twice my height fast approaching, and thought to myself, "Yup, I'm a goner." Luckily, it wasn't my time yet and a random guy from Texas saved me. Since that incident, I've been hesitant to go in the ocean when the waves are huge.

However, I made an exception while in Australia. I decided I needed to face and conquer my fear. I set out into the ocean and tackled the waves rolling in. Besides the fact that my bathing suit nearly wiggled its way off my body and into the endless sea, I kept pressing through to ride the big waves further out.

After about an hour of boogie boarding, my eyes burned from the salt-entrenched waters. I escorted my board to shore and passed out in exhaustion on top of it while the front side of my body baked in the summer sun. I could hear laughter and chatter all around...pure bliss.

The rest of the day was dedicated toward naps in the sun, reading, and pondering. I couldn't help but notice the parallels between conquering my fear of the waves and conquering life's constant curve balls. Each drains you, one physically and one emotionally. But sometimes you just have to get back out there and try again until you feel satisfied with the result.

Lesson I've learned: get out there and defeat the things that scare you. Otherwise, those things will turn into the things that hold you back from true happiness.

I'm ready to make waves of my own now!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Friday Funday: Sydney Edition

On Thursday night, we arrived in Sydney ready to take on the world. The girl we're staying with (who is a friend of a friend that works for Deloitte here in Australia) lives in the CBD overlooking Harbour Bridge (amazing!). It was already almost 11pm when we finally got to her place, so a group of us Chicagoans just hung out chatting. Then, the highlight of the night occurred: a cute little Asian girl walked into the apartment with a dinosaur/alligator costume on. She then proceeded to ask whether anyone wanted to take it off her hands. Being me, I threw my hands up in excitement and graciously accepted the costume. Just to point out, this girl was about half a foot shorter than you can imagine how great the costume was going to look on me...

Fast forward to Friday Funday. Diana and I walked through Sydney CBD, looking for a place to dance to make people smile. As we walked around, scoping the area, I wore the dinosaur/alligator costume. People love random stuff; so many people laughed at the costume, so I gave them a little wave and yelled, "Happy Friday!" At the end of the day, life is about transferring the joy you have within to other people.

We chose to do Friday Funday at Circular Quay. We only danced for about an hour and made $13.45, just enough to buy a bottle of wine afterward. At the end of our shift, a girl named Petra approached us and asked us to help her Amazing Race team. They needed a photo with something that represented a zoo and saw my costume and said it would help them win. See the winning photo attached.

Overall, Friday Funday has been completed in two cities and both have been very well received. From these experiences, we have made a couple of very important observations:
-We definitely need a sign that reads "Friday Funday" and "Be You"- we had to throw our original ones away before Tassie...big mistake. Posters give people a reference point.
-Costumes are a hit! We need to incorporate more into the Friday Funday lineup.
-Diana and I are true, natural-born entertainers. I think we're onto something here...

Can't wait to try out Friday Funday in New Zealand next week! Stay tuned.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Check that One Off the List...Tasmania

This week, Diana and I spent time in Tasmania. We rented a car from the airport and drove our way (on the left side of the road, no accidents) through the small island over the course of a few days. Wait, I should probably back up this story and mention that Diana and I wore our fascinators (reminder: big fancy hats) from the Melbourne Cup through the airport, security, and on the plane because we couldn't pack them. People LOVED it and were eager to strike up a conversation with us. In fact, the Jehovah's Witness clan tried to recruit us. I (not so) politely gave them back their materials.

So, Tasmania is a state of Australia, but mainland Australians tend to think of this island as the "awkward cousin." To be able to relate it to something Americans may know...think...West Virginia. I remember in high school, my brother had a green t-shirt with lettering that read, "West Virginia, Incest is the Best!" That t-shirt depicts (harshly) what Tasmania represents. I know, not very nice of me to say. However, I have evidence to prove (and will explain later in this post).

Our first afternoon in Tasmania, Diana and I completed the Tahune Air Walk. Along the way, we met a couple new friends, including Jason from Australia and Zumba Dru from Malta. Dru was traveling with two colleagues and Jason was traveling by himself, so of course Diana and I encouraged him to join us. Besides, when I was in Byron Bay by myself, I was lucky enough to meet a Canadian couple on my walk up to the lighthouse and it made the experience heaps better.

Huge fan of new friends :)
It was just after 5 when we finished the Tahune Air Walk and the other trails, so Diana and I got back on the road, drove through Hobart, and up the east coast of the state toward Wineglass Bay. After hours of driving, we decided to pull over in a coastal town and crash for the night. We wanted to make sure we were up bright and early to experience Wineglass Bay and the Bay of Fires.

The next morning, with a thrown-out back, we hiked Wineglass Bay and saw some of the most amazing views I've witnessed in quite awhile.

The hike up to overlook Wineglass Bay and then down to the beach takes about 3 hours and is SO worth it, especially when you finally get down to the beach. Mind you, it would be a whole lot easier to "hike" if I hadn't worn TOMS to do so. Two falls later, I was swearing and literally said to Diana, "I'll meet you at the car." I was having a moment. I slipped on the walk down to the beach (see photo below) as well as on the way down to the car. Both times, the first thing I checked was my camera to make sure I hadn't cracked the lens. Only after realizing the lens was still intact did I look at my body. Battlewounds included a scraped up elbow, a bruised palm, and a sore back. You better believe the first thing I did when I left Wineglass Bay was throw out my pair of TOMS (they had seen their fair share of vacations in 2012...).

Enjoying the gorgeous day
After the hike around Wineglass Bay, the rest of the day was pretty miserable due to the fact that my body ached from falling multiple times as well as sitting in a car for so long. We had lined up a place to stay near Launceston that night and as it turns out, the lady we were going to stay with no longer had room for us. Maybe I should mention that she lived in a VW bus parked on a vacant lot and had WWOOFers sleeping in the tent she intended for us to stay in (don't even ask...). She then offered her friend's place for us to stay at...and this is where it gets weird. This guy was not right. I'm not quite sure if he was just backwoods or not entirely all there, but my gut instantly screamed, "WARNING WARNING!!" And as some of you know, my intuition is dead on. The only time it ever steers me wrong is when I don't listen to I pumped the brakes on this idea and Diana and I opted for a motel that looked like the one from Psycho. Fortunately, there was no creepy shower scene or knives flailing about. Instead, we slept a solid 9 hours, woke up, and made our way back to Hobart to catch our flight. 

On the way back, we stopped at a couple wineries near Hobart to try the local wines. We got to the city earlier than expected, so we popped into a cafe, read, and drank tea. Best part about the cafe we went to? It was right next door to The Wilderness Society (TWS) Shop. Yes, TWS, our former employers, has a shop! Absolutely hilarious. In case any of you haven't read about our experience with TWS, find out more about it here.

Overall, I'm glad I made it to Tassie. However, I'm glad we only spent a few days there. We saw, we conquered, we left. For those of you that don't know, I almost signed a 6 month contract to conduct railway tours in western Tasmania. Thank GOODNESS I said no...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lesson of the Day: American National Anthem

I've realized that since being in Australia, I've sung the American national anthem more times than I ever have in the States in the 27 years I've been alive. It's happened randomly at bars, during a game of Never Have I Ever, and out on the streets. For some reason, I have this newfound patriotism since being in Australia. When I lived in London, I tried to acclimate to the culture there (by singing God Save the Queen and Chelsea FC chants) and almost turned back on the States altogether. However, since being Down Under, I've rekindled my love affair with the States, so much so that apparently Diana and I bust into an intense rendition of the national anthem wherever we deem appropriate.

Last Sunday night, Diana and I went out to bars in the South Yarra neighborhood in Melbourne. We randomly stumbled upon a bar with an apparently good enough vibe that it enticed us to stay for a couple glasses of wine. We struck up a conversation with a Brit and an Aussie. At first I was talking to the Brit (obviously) when Diana informed me that I needed to switch with her because I had more in common with the Aussie. Fair enough. He then word vomited all over me his love for the States. He said he wanted to go to grad school there (I gave him advice where to go) and join a frat (I said not too). Also, he asked me if it was true if every American college girl sleeps with a guy after every party. I then informed him he watched too many American Pie movies. Then, somehow, Diana and I started singing the national anthem for this Aussie. As we neared the end of the anthem, he joined in on "freeeeeeeeeeee" and I swear there was a tear in his eye.

I've had my fair share of ups and downs with America, but at the end of the day...."I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free." (And don't worry, Diana and I have also sang this in public as well...)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas...or Not.

For our last day in Melbourne before we head out to Tasmania, Diana and I walked around the city centre to soak up our last moments of the renowned cafe culture here. One of the major things I've noticed is that Australian culture does not decorate as much for the Christmas holidays. There are a few decorations here and there, but nothing like in the States. AND I haven't heard one verse of "War is Over (Happy Christmas)" or even a single rendition of "O Holy Night" (my personal favorite). Where am I?!

This Christmas is my first away from my family. Because my brother, my dad, and I are all huge music fans, there's never a lack of Christmas melodies playing in the Hardman household during the holiday season. Heck, we even have a version of Jingle Bells barked by dogs on the playlist...and we all know how much I love animals...

This year, I'll have to create my own Christmas traditions and play music from my MacBook, but I must's not the same as my parents forcing their 20- and 30-something-year-old kids into coming over in their pajamas on Christmas morning and opening a huge mound of gifts. Oh, and how can I forget...there's lots of white girl and white boy dancing to be had. My brother Dave usually starts the morning by turning on "Wonderful Christmastime" by Paul McCartney and doing the point and swirl dance.

The more I travel, the more I appreciate the traditions my family has developed over the years. I'll be the first to admit they may be a bit quirky, but that's what makes it fun and memorable. For Christmas this year, I'll take my dance moves and bad taste in Christmas music to my whitewater rafting trip in New Zealand with Diana and Ashley. I'm sure they'll join in!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Birthday Week in Wine Country

Funny enough, I had this blogpost already written on Wednesday and then something significant happened that changed my blogpost idea altogether. In the past, I've asked friends and family to describe me using a couple words and the common adjectives used include: intelligent, confident, genuine, optimistic (or "sunny"), and hardworking. I'll explain why this is significant later...

This week, I celebrated my 27th birthday working on a winery outside Melbourne near Harcourt. Before leaving the States for Australia, I cold-emailed a handful of wineries throughout the country asking if they had positions available where I could learn the marketing/events aspect of the industry. A few wrote back and mentioned they could accommodate Diana and me for a week. Since Diana grew up in Wyoming on a farm, I figured she would enjoy the experience. So, we met with the owner/winemaker of one of the wineries that responded and talked about what the workweek would entail. He mentioned there would be some manual labor, but that I would learn heaps of things about the industry as well as help with an event at the cellar door...perfect! Or so I thought...

Okay, now fast forward to Thursday of this week to me crying my eyes out pushing a lawn mower (for the first time EVER, mind you--don't judge! I grew up in a townhouse with no lawn), swatting flies out of my face, blisters forming on my hands, and frustrated that I've yet to learn one thing applicable to a future job in the wine industry. The reason for tears? Three-and-a-half days into 8-hour daily sessions of manual labor, I began to see stars every time I bent down to shovel dirt. So what did I do? I said something to the owner. I am very in tune with my body and I know when something is wrong. (To paint another picture for you: while in the vineyard shoveling dirt, I had to stop to do extended Downward Dogs just to keep my back from having spasms.) There was no way in hell I was going to screw up my back over something like this. Back in high school, I messed up my shoulder during volleyball and instead of waiving my white flag to surrender, I listened to my coaches who told me to take Vicodin and get cortisone shots to mask the pain. It wasn't until I was serving at a volleyball game one day that all the masking agents wore away and I left the game with an uneven, torn shoulder as well as the disappointment that I would never play college ball competitively.

Needless to say, from that point onward, I vowed to never push my body past it's limits. Yes, I workout hard on occasion but there's a huge difference between pushing yourself safely and hurting yourself. Maybe that's why I gravitate toward yoga...

So, I told the winemaker I had to switch over to another task for awhile. He was pissed, but let me also remind you that I was supposed to be working on an event that same day anyway and he didn't let me. Instead, I was sent to the garden to dig out beds, add mulch, and be the gardener's right hand woman. At the end of Thursday, he cornered me in the garden and said something that will stick in my mind forever: "You think you're hardworking, huh? Ha! You're not worth the money I'm paying you. And you're not fit--next time I hire someone, they need to be fitter than you." Such a lovely man (It should also be said that this lovely man told Diana and I on Monday night that he is bipolar).

So, doing what I do best, I found the silver lining in the situation (AFTER I finished crying while mowing the garden lawn). You know what the positive thing was from this experience? The fact that I spent nearly two days with two amazing women, one being the gardener and the other being the cellar door manager/chef. From my time with them, I cultivated a newfound love (gardening) and continued growing another (cooking). Had I not spoken up and said that my back hurt, I would not have had the opportunity to work in the garden and in the kitchen to see how much I love eating fresh and homemade produce and turning them into delicious meals paired with a beautiful wine. These women took me under their wings, taught me bucketloads, and protected me from the winemaker and his snide comments.

In one week, there were many ups and downs, but it turned out to be a very defining moment in my life. I may not be "fit" enough to work in the fields, but I have the personality and intelligence to work with people on the business side of things.

Besides the unfortunate situation with the winemaker, a lot of both good and funny things happened this week. Here is a list of my favorites:

-Overcoming my fear of magpies. The winery had a pet magpie named Sid, so I had to learn to embrace my fears. By the end of the week, I taught the baby bird how to dig for bugs in the garden bed! I'm a changed woman.
-Wine areas of the world are still my happy places. They stir up such good feelings inside. I love being in the country and living simply.
-I feel accomplished. We planted 27 rows of new vines of Shiraz and fixed the wires on old vines of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. We witnessed all phases of vine life and aided in the wine-making process from the ground up. I also dug up an entire garden bed, nurtured it, and planted more life into it.
-I learned how the same wine tastes entirely different depending on what kind of glass it's in as well as how to barrel taste and not look like an idiot.
-Randomly enough, I can now add chopping wood, feeding chickens and cleaning their coop, and pea picking to my growing repertoire of skills obtained while in Australia.
-I've also learned real-life skills such as how delicious and satisfying it is to eat food from your own garden. I've always wanted to grow my own veggies and herbs and being here encourages me to really do it! Wine and delicious meals go hand-in-hand, which also reminds me that I need to continue my self-taught cooking lessons when I get back to the States.

I'm grateful for experiences like these to help guide me toward my next life chapter. At the end of the day, I've learned that as long as I keep a sunny disposition and find the good in every situation, things work out for the best. And hey, I can now chalk up this situation to another learning experience!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Who Loves the Wilderness?!

To add yet another experience to our bucketload of randomness here in Melbourne, Diana and I worked as "Wilderness Defenders" for The Wilderness Society (TWS), which is an Australian nonprofit that is independently run and gives a "voice" to the forests, oceans, and wildlife of this country.

Wait, maybe I should back up and tell you the full story of how we even got the job. When Diana and I were doing our first Friday Funday a couple weeks ago, we wrote at the bottom of our poster, "p.s. We are looking for jobs!" A guy from TWS approached us and asked if we really needed jobs and if we'd be interested in doing fundraising. Red flag. Usually those jobs are commission-based and involve a lot of rejection. The TWS guy then told us it was base PLUS commission and involved being on the streets talking to people (mind you, these are the people I avoided back home by crossing to the other side of the street if I saw them...). But again, we chalked it down to a new experience.

After a day of training, memorizing random facts ("Sir, did you know that 92% of Australia's forests have been destroyed since Europeans settled here and that one CBD is destroyed weekly?!"), and practicing our pitches ("Who loves the wilderness?! THIS GIRL!! Do YOU love the wilderness?!"), we hit the streets yesterday. Twenty minutes into our shift, Diana and I signed on a Kiwi and made our first commission.

We spent four hours being ridiculous and making people smile. "Hey sir, are you a superhero?..."No"...well would you like to be?!" There was a lot of rejection involved, too. Overall, I learned something important: I LOVE building rapport and entertaining people, but I do NOT like direct sales. I think the best part is that this job opened our eyes to different types of people and helped us to better understand them. For instance, maybe when I get back home I won't intentionally cross the street to avoid them but actually have a conversation with them. It's people like this that keep those nonprofits going. Supposedly 90 percent of their funding comes from signing on members just like we did yesterday.

And as it turns out, we only were Wilderness Defenders for a day. We were offered a new job for next week...stay tuned! This new job fulfills another one of my life goals!!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Professional Dabbler?

After three weeks of nonstop activities in Melbourne, I hit a brick wall today. Literally all I wanted to do all day was have some "me" time, which included a workout and a good book to read. I chose Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape based on a friend's recommendation.

I spent most of the afternoon stretched out on the couch reading, but I found myself distracted. Since today was the first time in three weeks I was able to make some time for myself, it allowed me to do something I hadn't done in awhile: think/reflect/overanalyze. And for those of you that know me, going weeks without doing this is practically a miracle! For three entire weeks, I lived day-by-day and in the moment. It felt great! Yet, something was thoughts.

Today, the thought that kept popping into my mind was "next steps." For instance, what should I do for a living when I get home? I know I know, you're thinking, "That's not for a couple month's time, you nut!" but I'm excited/nervous about what lies ahead. I can do anything I want! The world is my oyster, as they say. However, that's what's keeping me up at night!! How do I narrow down what I should do? I have so many interests! There are so many jobs I can honestly see myself doing, but how do I choose which to pursue first? Am I destined to be a professional dabbler, changing jobs every couple years? Or is it that I haven't found one that suits me yet? Am I asking for too much? Is the secret to all of this just to make sure you're fulfilled as a person outside of work in order to ensure fulfillment AT work?

I understand work isn't rainbows and butterflies everyday, however, it should be something you wake up and want to do a majority of the time. I LOVE to work. And I love to work hard, which means it should be something I'm passionate about. So how do I focus those passions? Anyone have any suggestions? Anyone? Bueller?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Brighton Beach and Big Opportunities

Yesterday, we had every intention to get to the beach early in the day and enjoy the beautiful spring/summer weather Melbourne finally decided to bestow on us. However, when we arrived at the train station to take us there, we heard a very round Asian man yelling, "NO TRAIN! No train today. Bus only. NO TRAIN!!!" from across the tracks. Let me point out something here: he did NOT work for the city or the train line. He simply wanted to inform us that there was no train. As we walked up the ramp and over to the buses, he pulls out a random map from his pocket and continues to yell, "NO TRAIN!!! Take bus. NO TRAIN!!!" as we're standing about a foot from his face. We try to explain to him that we understood, but he continued to yell and point to his map. We thought this was the perfect time to walk away slowly..

Long story short, we hopped on two buses that eventually took us to Melbourne CBD. From there, we still had to take another train to Brighton Beach (fortunately, this train line was still running that day). Before we rode that train, we decided to lay in the sun at a park downtown and drink champagne...just because we could. Around 4pm, we finally got on the train and rode to the beach. This beach is known for its colorful shacks along the water. These things are tiny and sell for a couple hundred thousand dollars! People store their beach stuff in these and that's about it. Below are a few of my favorite ones:

After a couple hours at the beach, we headed back toward the city. As we were about to hop on the train, one of the friends we've made here in Melbourne (Jaymee) called us and told us that she had a group of people we needed to meet. We were exhausted, but luckily the event our friend wanted us to go to was off the same train line as the one we were already on. When we got there, we found out the event was for a winery in the area and the entire inside of this art space was decorated as if you were outside at the winery having a picnic lunch. There was fake grass on the floor, picnic baskets hanging from the ceiling, blanket to sit on, bikes and large pieces of fruit everywhere, grape vines hanging down, and an abundance of wine and champagne. We met the event manager and complimented her amazing setup! We also met a few women entrepreneurs, both of which were a HUGE help to us and offered a handful of suggestions to Diana and me. We're meeting with both this week to discuss further. I love when independent, confident women get together and exchange ideas and help each other! 

Friday Funday: Movember Edition

On November 23rd, we had our second Friday Funday where we danced on the streets of Melbourne to make people smile. However, this time around, we were more prepared.

As many of you know, all around the world men participate in Movember during the month of November to raise money for prostate cancer and male mental health. For Friday Funday, we wore mustaches to support this cause. Let me tell you, people loved it! We raised $29.75 (almost six times more than last week!) and enjoyed every minute of it. We were sweating so much that our mustaches were falling off our face, so we had to improvise and keep using new pieces of duct tape to keep it on.  At one point, we were dancing with one arm up in the air and the other holding onto our 'staches. Priceless.

Our first $5 note (or bill as Americans would say) was given to us by a man and his friend watching our performance through the cafe window in their office building. He ran outside after about 20 minutes of Diana and I dancing and said, "My colleague and I have been laughing and smiling at you two since you started. We thought it was only fair to give you a tip for the entertainment provided!"

Toward the end of Friday Funday, a random guy called out to us and asked, "Do you two know Gangnam Style?!" Before his very eyes, we switched the song and busted out the dance moves to Gangnam Style. He was in hysterics! Best moment of the day by far. See video attached.

I think we're really onto something here... And the best part? We're having the time of our lives making people happy! We even came up with a tagline for our business while we were dancing: Your Smile is Your Best Accessory...Wear It.

We're still brewing up ideas for next Friday...stay tuned!

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Yesterday, we worked at the Queen Victoria Market for one last shift. To be completely honest, we needed produce to make Thanksgiving dinner. Well, and the fact that we genuinely enjoyed dancing and chatting with the customers, even though we would get in trouble. I don't think our supervisors realized that building rapport with customers actually encourages them to return time and time again...

We finished our shift at 2pm then ran over to the butcher to pick up a "turkey" (aka 2 kg chicken) for Thanksgiving dinner. We told the butchers we worked in the market and when they found out which stall they said, "Wow, you two must have been desperate!" Glad to know our intuition about how this stall is run was accurate. Because the guys at the butcher felt so bad for us, they gave us the chicken at a severely discounted rate.

When we got back to Rom and Kelly's, we drank wine, listened to Christmas music, and started prepping dinner. Since Kelly and Diana are American too, we decided to each cook a family recipe. I chose my dad's sweet and savory stuffing. Instead of cranberries, I substituted cherries since they're in season right now in Melbourne. It was a success! Diana made green bean casserole and Kelly made pumpkin pie. Although the meal wasn't quite as good as my dad's, I really enjoyed it as well as the company I was surrounded by.

Before we dove into dinner, we went around the table saying what we were thankful for this year. Every year I have a lot to be grateful for, but this year I am especially thankful for the travel opportunities I've had in 2012. I can't even imagine what 2013 will bring, but I know it's going to be epic. When you follow your heart and live your passions, life seems effortless...great things happen all the time.

Happy Thanksgiving to all those celebrating (and not celebrating). Don't forget to be thankful EVERY DAY :)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Lesson of the Day: Education Equals Opportunity

Today, Diana and I worked at Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne at a fruit and veg stand for 5 hours. In those 5 hours, we each made $40. Yes, that's $8/hour. In Victoria, Australia, the minimum hourly rate is around $15/hour, so we made about half that. For us, this was a "fun" job to add to our life experience and help us relate better to the people around us. For the others working at this stand, this job is their way of making money and supporting their family. They don't get to go home in a couple months and have the option to make more money. Instead, they have to learn to live off this paycheck.

With our $40 in hand, we repeatedly said to each other, "I'm so thankful for my education." Because of the opportunities we've had in our lives, we have the ability to have various jobs that make more than $8/hour. Even with massive amounts of student loan debt, I'm thankful for having two higher ed degrees. Without them, I wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing now.

This experience also brought to light the fact that we often spend money on things we don't need. Do I really need another pair of designer jeans or that new Apple product? No, I don't. Yes, it's nice to treat yourself sometimes. However, that "thing" you buy isn't going to make you feel better about yourself in the long run. Instead, it's about experiencing life to its fullest--and that doesn't even involve spending one cent.

In fact, another bucket list item of mine is to have a guy take me on a date where he doesn't spend a single penny. It teaches you to be creative and appreciate the world around you. There are SO many fun and free things to do all around you! This trip, I've tried to experience everything I can and a lot of it has been without spending crazy amounts of money. Yes, there's a few splurges here and there, but ultimately, it's simple things like reading at the beach or walking around that make me happiest.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I just wanted to express how thankful I am for the life I have.

Top two things I'm grateful for:
1. Education- because education = opportunity
2. The ability to appreciate the little things in life.

When you're sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner, dig deep and really think about all the great things you have in your life. I'm pretty sure there's a lot more there than you even think and none of it entails having the "finer things" in life.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Our First Ever Friday Funday!

Life goal #842 (approx.) accomplished: set up shop on a street corner downtown and white girl dance for tips. Yes, I am being completely honest.

On Friday afternoon, Diana and I put up posters for our brand Be You! (like us on Facebook!), set out a CD boom box, and white girl danced our hearts out. For all of you that know me, I'm sure you've witnessed "the dolphin" and "the point" randomly at a bar when I'm in the right mood. Now just envision my terrible dance moves (along with Diana's) on the corner of Elizabeth and Collins Streets in Melbourne CBD (just think Michigan Avenue in Chicago). We've coined this new tradition as "Friday Funday."

Now you may be asking yourself, "WHY would she do something like that?!" The answer is simple: Be You. Dancing terribly makes me happy and being happy is contagious. So, Friday Funday is a way for Diana and I to transfer our happiness to others. If you look around, too many people are unhappy, and a lot of the time, they're unhappy because they are being something other than themselves. Or people are just pretending to be happy. I was guilty of it just a couple months ago! I was working a job I didn't love, was friends with toxic people, and pretending to love "settling down" in one place. It wasn't until I looked within and started to be myself that the gates to happiness opened.

Essentially, our brand Be You! is to remind everyone that it's okay to break out of the mold and do things that make you happy, even if others disapprove. To pay this message forward, Diana and I hung up two posters while we danced. One read: Friday Funday!; the other read: Be Spontaneous, Be Creative, Be _______, Be You! As pedestrians passed, we danced around, smiled ,and yelled, "Happy Friday!" And you know what? I think we changed quite a few people's days around. A handful of people came up to us and gushed about how happy we were and how it made them happy as well. An older lady sat on the bench and watched us for an hour, multiple people videotaped us, a guy in a wheelchair gave us hugs, some stepped in to dance, etc. We made an impact on more than a handful of people in Melbourne that day.

And funny enough, guess who we ran into while we were dancing on the street?! The opening act of La Soiree! (click here for a reminder of what this is). All of a sudden while we're dancing, I hear a man yell, "Go girls!" and then realized who he was! Of course we convinced him to take a photo with us :)

After about four hours of dancing, Diana and I met Rom and Kelly at the Bottom End for happy hour. A few of their friends showed up as well and we all drank champagne (it's free for ladies between 5-7pm FYI) and then we told them about our adventurous day. They loved it! We then gave them a taste of our dance moves as we walked from the bar to dinner. We set up our boom box and danced down the sidewalk (see video below).

After dinner, we decided to check off another bucket list item: karaoke! First, we went to a place called KBOX. It wasn't really what we had this place, groups rented out rooms and sang with their friends in small groups. Because there were only three of us that decided to go to karaoke, we party crashed one of the rooms. Diana stole the mic from the group of 7 dudes and 1 girl and then started performing "I Would Do Anything For Love" by Meatloaf. And don't worry, she didn't forget to incorporate a leg guitar move (yes, I said LEG guitar) and intense screaming into the microphone. I would not have been surprised to see her just drop the mic at the end of the performance and walk out. One of the BEST performances I've abs hurt from laughing so much!

After KBOX, we went to a dodgy karaoke bar in Chinatown to sing Toto "Africa." Our stay at this bar was short-lived and we left right after our performance. By the time we got on stage, our voices were nearly gone due to a day of yelling and singing, but we still entertained the crowd.

Our final stop of the night was a bar called Berlin Bar. One side of the bar represented East Berlin and the other side was West Berlin. The West was gorgeously decorated with fancy drinks while the East depicted a communist bunker and had only a few mediocre drink choices to represent life in Germany until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.

This Friday will always have a special place in my memory. It was the day Diana and I unofficially launched our business and made $4.65 in the process, which didn't even cover the price of the boom box batteries but will provide us years and years of smiles and fulfillment :) Here's to many more Friday Fundays in many more cities around the world!