2020: The year of ‘Self’

Happy New Year, everyone!

I’m a little late to my 2020 theme post. Actually, I’ve been later. Did you notice I didn’t post one last year? Neither did I. I don’t even know if I had a theme in 2019, and it sure did prove to be a tough year for me.

Not only are we welcoming a new year—we are also welcoming a new decade. As I reflect on my life the past 10 years, I see tremendous growth: I met my husband, graduated with an undergraduate degree, traveled to places around the world, had many rewarding jobs, got married, got a cat, went to graduate school, won an alumni award, and rediscovered different hobbies like theater and avid reading and writing. Life has been good to me!

If there’s anything that I’ve learned this past decade, and continue to relearn, is my self-worth. It’s something we all have (not to be confused with self-esteem) and I’ve worked hard to combat those negative thoughts.

What I have noticed throughout the past year is that I have been super negative. From looking in the mirror and picking at my face, my body, and overall image, to writing and calling myself incompetent or worthless, I’ve really pushed myself down this year. I feel as if I can never say a good thing about myself. I’d like for that to change in 2020.

Writing a master’s thesis and starting a new job at the same time is extremely stressful, but they are both very positive things. I’ve become so stressed that I’ve been sick since October. I haven’t been eating well, and I haven’t exercised as much. It’s taken a toll. It’s time I start to become more positive and erase those negative thoughts that constantly swirl in my head telling myself that I am “not enough.” As a perfectionist, these thoughts occur often, and it is affecting my overall health and happiness.

In 2015, I learned that there is a key difference between resolutions and habits. Resolutions just don’t work. If you say you want to eat healthy, you aren’t really creating something that is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based). If you really want to succeed in your goals for the next year, try to form habits.

In 2016, I took it one step further (all inspired by Gretchen Rubin, a happiness expert) and declared a theme for my year, which was Health. In 2017, I created a theme of Improve, and in 2018, my themes were Perform and Travel. This year, my theme is “Self.”

Coffee, Food, Drink, Hottest, Leaves, Winter, Cold

I was trying to find the perfect word to describe what I wanted to achieve this year, and I found that one of my friends has the same goals for 2020, calling 2020 the year of “Self.” So, inspired by her, that will be my theme!

Now, along with a theme, you must create goals that correspond with that theme. Then, you create SMART habits that will help you achieve your goals.

Here are my goals for Self:

GOAL: Become more mindful: Do you every feel as if your mind doesn’t stop? My mind has raced constantly and I cannot concentrate and complete everything on my to-do list.

Habit: To achieve mindfulness I will use my Stop, Breathe, and Think app once a day and meditate throughout the year.

GOAL: Be organized: From my full-time job and writing my master’s thesis to side gigs and a social life, I have found that I have lost touch with my organizational side (a side I took pride in). I want to be able to juggle all my tasks—from my blog and bookstagram posts (follow me @keepitkassual on Instagram) to my work meetings and academic projects.

Habit: Purchase a monthly/daily planner and a bullet journal and regularly update both items once a week, on Sunday mornings. Sundays will be your day to be organized for the week and start the work week recharged and focused.

GOAL: Prioritize fitness: This one is pretty straightforward. When I exercise, I am not only physically healthy, but mentally healthy. I am energized, confident, and can concentrate and complete my other tasks with a positive attitude.

Habit: Go to the gym 2-3 times a week, incorporating regular strength training with cardio (spinning on Saturdays or using the bikes at the gym on weeknights). I also plan on putting the gym in my planner to hold myself accountable and not move it if other things were to arise.

I am hopeful that these goals will be achieved this year! If I am mentally and physically healthy (mindfulness and exercise), I will feel organized and energized to complete my other tasks. I also hope to prioritize writing not only for my thesis and other academic projects and read slowly, enjoying the books I want to read rather than rushing through them. With the help of achieving these goals, I will truly be able to focus on myself—mind, body, and soul.

What about you? What are your “themes” or goals for 2020? Share in the comments below, and wishing you and yours a Happy New Year!

‘Mastering’ the thesis: A student’s journey

For those who don’t know, I am currently earning my master’s in English—a very rewarding and fulfilling area of study for me. It’s been a whirlwind these past two years; working full time and switching jobs all while going to school full time can be stressful!

My project has many layers, but to simplify it, it focuses on the female heroine in fantasy literature. The fantastic as a genre offers readers the opportunity to explore the impossible, and because of this, authors of this genre are able to introduce readers to worlds beyond our imagination.

The genre itself also opens up doors for protagonists to do what might not be as easy to do in reality. A heroine establishing their autonomy and fighting solely to save the world they live in has unfortunately not been a storyline commonly produced by authors from other genres throughout the centuries. That’s what I ultimately argue; the genre and its elements allow these heroines to be who they truly are.

Since I was a child, I’ve been drawn to fantasy simply because of its availability of heroines. From Lucy and Susan Pevensie to Coraline alike, I have always admired them and been inspired by their valor. Growing up and entering academia, it’s easy to say that feminist theory has been the foundation of my research and a number of research papers at the end of each semester.

So, I spent the summer reading the fantastic (doesn’t that sound awful? ;)). Here’s what I read:

-Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (reread) – Lewis Caroll

-The Princess and the Goblin -George MacDonald

-The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis

-A Wrinkle in Time -Madeleine L’Engle

-His Dark Materials -Phillip Pullman

-The Hunger Games (reread) -Suzanne Collins

-The Harry Potter series (reread, focusing on the development of Hermione Granger) -J.K. Rowling

-Coraline (reread) -Neil Gaiman

After reading all of these books (and a billion pages of scholarly articles), I found something inspiring about the heroines depicted in these stories: they all control their narratives (except Meg from A Wrinkle in Time…did anyone like that series?).

I found, overall, that each heroine works to control their narrative in their story and rebel against forces working against them.

I immediately decided that this was my project, but I couldn’t write about every single heroine (at least not yet).

I decided to take a contemporary approach and focus on three beloved heroines: Lyra from His Dark Materials, Hermione from Harry Potter, and Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games.

After more research, I began to dive deeper. I soon discovered that these three heroines not only establish their autonomy in their stories, but they also bend their gender.

I then studied the topic of tomboys and concluded that each Lyra, Hermione, and Katniss display different tomboyish characteristics, therefore separating them from the regular heroine: Katniss, the hunter, and Lyra, the rascal, and Hermione, the bookish and unkempt.

Further, they all own their identities, and even if they sometimes represent femininity in their stories (Lyra being dressed up by her mother, Katniss being dressed up for the Games, or Hermione dressing up for the Yule Ball), they do it as a choice and perform femininity without losing their core, tomboyish essence. They remain in control throughout their stories.

The fantastic offers endless opportunity, and because of the genre, authors can bring these heroines to the forefront; these lovely, amazing, gender-bending, rebellious heroines that we all love so much.

I am now in the final stretch: writing my master’s thesis. This past month, I submitted my first chapter for review.

IMG_4620Right now, I am focusing on my Katniss chapter. I am very excited to write more about one of my favorite heroines (and arguably, one of society’s favorites). And, I’m even more excited to present my project on Katniss at a national conference in Boston this March.

I bet you’re wondering how a person working full time has the time to write a master’s thesis? She doesn’t, folks. She just doesn’t.

It’s been a really tough process. Lots of tears, lots of therapy sessions. It’s hard to leave work and keep that creative energy to last beyond after-work gym sessions or making dinner/spending time with my husband.

It’s hard to say no to plans, to move plans around, or cancel plans to write or research. Heck, it’s hard to sit down and write. But, I wanted to be honest with those who are wondering, and an ally to those who might be going through the same thing as me.

This is what I love to do, and I’m excited to share my love of writing and the topic and genre I love so much with the world.

Thanks for reading! Has anyone taken on a project this large? Any advice? Want to just rant about it to a safe, open space/person? Feel free to comment below!

 

Mrs. Bridges Pantry | Woodstock, CT

This year, I’ve made it a goal of mine to discover quaint towns and travel to different places in my home state. Living in Connecticut, I have the unique opportunity to explore old New England towns and take in all of its charms. Today, I made my way over to Mrs. Bridges Pantry in South Woodstock in northeastern Connecticut with a close friend.

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Mrs. Bridges Pantry is a British tea shop with the quintessential decor to match. The tea rooms take you right into a tea shop in England, filled with English country-style wallpaper, tea plates and spoons covering the beams, frames with the bust of Queen Elizabeth II, old books, flags adorned with British flags, patterns, and corgis (!!), and more. The tables are appropriately set with doilies and old-fashioned tea trinkets, like the most adorable sugar cube bowls!

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The menu consists of traditional British fare like meat pies, spaghetti on toast, an assortment of English tea sandwiches, soups, salads—tons of options. I went for the Farmhouse Tea where you get an individual pot of tea, a choice of tea sandwich, and your choice of a scone with jam and butter. Mrs. Bridges has a long list of tea selections: black, green, herbal, white, and rooibos tea. I chose a ginger peach green tea, served in an adorable and unique tea and saucer set, egg salad tea sandwiches, and a “very berry” scone.

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It was such a relaxing, enjoyable experience. The tea is delightful, the food is delicious, and the atmosphere just takes you away from your troubles and you leave feeling like royalty. Connecticut residents: If you want an authentic British afternoon tea experience in your own backyard, visit Mrs. Bridges Pantry!

 

UPDATE: This place is now closed as of winter 2019.

It’s Summertime! Six Ways to Celebrate Summer

It’s summer! Yesterday marked the official start of one of the best seasons: sunny skies, fireflies, lemonade, and beach days!

While I definitely prefer fall and cooler weather, there’s something about summer that gets everyone excited and in a great mood—which I love!

Here are some of my favorite activities to do in the summer:

Go for a bike ride:
We live in an amazing part of the state where we can access a few of the many rails-to-trails spots in Connecticut. One of the trails follows a major river, and my husband and I love to strap on our helmets and ride along the shady, cool trails and take in the scenery. We love to stop and watch the flow of the river and listen to the birds and bugs buzz on a cool summer night!

Go to the beach:
Since my husband and I started dating, we have traveled to Rhode Island multiple weekends in each summer and spent time with his cousins and his family. It’s one of my favorite traditions that we plan on continuing when we grow as a family! I love the beach. I love planting myself in a chair with a giant sun hat and devouring books to the rhythmic sound of the waves under the warm sun.

Ice cream shops
On a hot summer day, nothing cools you down better than a cold treat. Ice cream, naturally, is delicious, and eating a giant ice cream cone outside with music playing and kids running around is quintessential summertime!

Travel
Summer is a great time to hop in the car with the windows down (or up with the AC blasting) and explore the world around you! Aside from our trips to Rhode Island last summer, we traveled to Burlington, VT, Washington and Montpelier, VT, D.C., and Montreal, along with stopping at different places in our state, like the Book Barn! Make sure you take time to travel this summer!

Drink iced coffee
I only drink iced coffee when the weather is warm, and I sure do take advantage of it! Iced coffee/iced lattes are such a delicious treat in the summer. I even started making my own iced coffee to save a few bucks, and I love my recipe!

Just celebrate summer!
This is actually a new favorite of mine! Yesterday, two of my close friends and I celebrated the Summer Solstice with a barbeque, lots of glitter, flower crowns, dancing, and music. It was a fun way to enjoy the nice weather and welcome summer with open arms (especially after such a cold winter in New England!)

How do you enjoy summer? In her latest blog post, Marycatherine shares her list!

Happy Summer!

 

Wanderlust: 20 Places I Want to See

This past year, I have made it a goal of mine to travel as much as I can—to take advantage of opportunities that allow me to see the world.

The first time I flew on a plane, I was 18 years old traveling to Orlando for a journalism conference. I remember I was shaking in my seat, my travel companion talking me down that anxiety. I remember the plane taking off—I immediately felt a sense of excitement and calm.

That rush of the unexpected and possibility. When I was a little girl, I did not see myself seeing the world even though I yearned to. I was afraid of the unknown—afraid to take risks and try new things.

I have come a long way since my first flight to Orlando. Since then, I’ve traveled to Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, Colorado, France, Montrèal, Ireland—and many more places that have inspired me and provided some of the best memories. I thought that it would be fun to share a list of 20 places I want to visit domestic and international (in alphabetical order):

  1. Arizona (particularly Grand Canyon and Monument Valley)
  2. Australia
  3. Barcelona
  4. California (all of it!)
  5. Civil Rights Trail in the Southern U.S.
  6. Fiji
  7. Greece
  8. Hawaii
  9. Iceland
  10. Italy
  11. London (November 2018!)
  12. Nashville and Memphis
  13. New Zealand
  14. Paris (September 2019!)
  15. Prague and Vienna
  16. Quebec City
  17. Scandinavia (Finland, Sweden, Norway)
  18. Scotland and Northern Ireland
  19. Seattle & Vancouver
  20. Switzerland

How about you? Have you been anywhere on my list? Thanks for reading and keeping up with my journey.

 

 

 

Looking Back: A Conversation with a WWII POW

On this day four years ago, I was sitting under the hot sun at Omaha Beach in Normandy listening to President Barack Obama and French President François Hollande speak about the importance of liberty and friendship.

Who would have thought I would ever write that sentence—not me!

In 2014, less than a month after I graduated with my Bachelors, I traveled to France with a group of fellow journalism students from Central Connecticut State University to cover the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Looking back, I realized then that it was a tremendous opportunity. Now, four years later, I there is nothing I wouldn’t do to relive those moments.

All of my classmates had their goals for the trip. For one who is deeply connected to history, I knew that my biggest goal was to meet someone who fought 70 years ago on those beaches and share their story.

The first three days of our trip were filled with heavy emotions. I remember standing on a silent Omaha Beach letting the wind whip through my hair as I looked out into the vast ocean. We walked along the innumerable rows of white crosses at the American Cemetery, reading the names and paying our respects to the nearly 10,000 soldiers who lost their lives fighting for our freedom.

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We visited Pointe du Hoc, the highest point between Utah Beach and Omaha Beach.  I walked inside the bunkers, originally under German occupancy before American troops captured the area while scaling the cliffs. I remember looking out into the water from one of the edges of the point and taking in the scenery, wondering how a place so beautiful could host such dark and scary moments in history.

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After the commemoration on June 5, our group stood outside waiting for the buses to bring us back from the beach to our designated location. It was an excruciatingly hot day, and my friends and I went to the shade. We then met Bernie Rader and his grandson, Brad, and we talked while waiting for the bus. We casually asked where they were from, and the grandson replied that he was from Connecticut. A town, in fact, not too far from us.

I could not explain the amount of excitement we felt. I remember my classmates and I immediately went into “journalist” mode and started to ask Bernie questions. As soon as we started the interview, his bus came. Heartbroken, we watched the bus drive away. Throughout the rest of the day, I ached to learn more about Bernie and his experience. His kind face and eagerness to share his story stayed in my mind, and I made it my mission to find the Raders and share Bernie’s story.

Long story short, I found him, and later that summer, I met up with Bernie in Connecticut and we had lunch. It was then that I heard his story and wrote my article for the class.

Please read Bernie’s story and remember those who gave up so much so we could be free today. Also, please read and check out all of the other awesome work my class did that summer!

 

 

 

Need free, beautiful images for your blog? Try Pixabay!

Hey everyone!

A few people have reached out to me asking what resource I use for some of my images, so I thought I’d write a post about it!

I discovered Pixabay a few years ago when I was a Content Producer for a local startup. I was covering education, pop culture, and other topics, and I found myself scrambling for copyright free images to use in my articles.

Pixabay is a super cool, life-saving resource consisting of a community of photographers and artists who share their copyright free images and videos. All content is released under a license that makes it safe for bloggers and writers to use the images without attribution—even for commercial uses!

When I am not posting traveling photos or my own amateur photography on my blog, I turn to Pixabay, and I am usually able to find the content I need. All you have to do is search specific keywords and there you go! Hundreds of images at your fingertips. These artists are absolutely incredible, and I always am pleased with the quality. If you can’t tell, one of my aesthetics is photographs of coffee, colorful journals, and pens! When I search “coffee” or “office,” I find tons of beautiful photos. Here are some examples:

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Cute, huh?! I’m sure you’ve seen the bottom one on my blog before—it’s so peaceful and inspirational!

I can’t thank the photographers and artists enough for sharing their content so that amateur photographers like me can write tips and tricks and bring beauty to my website. While I do plan on using my own photography more on my blog (which I am starting to do), Pixabay is a helpful resource to find images for all sorts of projects!

What are some of your favorite blogging resources? Please share in the comments!

 

 

 

Reflection: Themes for 2018

Hi all! We are halfway through the new year, and I thought it might be fun to check in and see where I am so far with my “themes” for 2018.

Back in January, I shared my two themes for 2018: Perform and Travel. I noticed that these were two lifestyles that I wanted to incorporate into my life. I spent my entire childhood performing, but I stopped when I got to college. After seeing a beautiful production of “The Phantom of the Opera,” I realized that I wanted to be back on the stage again! Back in August 2017, my husband and I traveled to Montreal, and we realized that we wanted to see more of the world. So, we made it our goal to travel more! Reflecting on my year thus far, I am super proud that I have been making progress in reaching my goals.

When you make goals, it’s a great exercise to reflect and see how far you are coming to reaching them. If you notice that you have a long way to go, you could always modify your goals, or set smaller actionable steps that you can take to get to your predetermined finish line! It’s also a rewarding reflection process: If you are close to reaching your goals, or if you already met them, celebrate! You are awesome and moving in a positive direction!

Let’s go back.

In the start of the new year, I set two goals for “Perform:”

  1. Try out and perform in a public setting for a local community theater
  2. Practice my guitar/singing twice a week and share progress through videos

In April, I auditioned for and landed a solo in a local community theater’s spring cabaret! Not only did I encounter the nerves of auditioning in front of strangers, but I also had the opportunity to perform in front of an audience. It was an exhilarating experience; even though I listened to the recording and had plenty of remarks and criticisms, I had to recognize that it was a big step to get up and do it—and I had so much fun!

And now, I have joined a community theater! A few weeks ago, I tried out to be cast in the theater’s fall production, “Young Frankenstein. ” and I am thrilled to say that I will be a part of it.

So, the second goal: I am still working on that one! For those who do not know, I also go to graduate school. This past semester was incredible because I had the opportunity to be a graduate assistant and help teach a 17th-century British literature course! With a full-time job, three classes, and a cabaret to rehearse for, I found myself with little time for leisure! Now that it’s summer, I will be able to focus on practicing guitar. I plan on writing down practice time in my planner and sticking to it so I can meet my goal this year.

I did, however, have some time to play guitar at my sister’s birthday party and even posted a video on my Facebook page! Progress!

Now, let’s turn to my goals for “Travel:”

  1. Travel outside of the country at least once and write about my experiences
  2. Take more spontaneous trips and explore the state and area that I live in and write about my experiences

When I made these goals back in January, I admittedly knew that I would meet one of them right away. In March, Ian and I traveled all around Ireland. We originally planned to do this for our honeymoon but decided to wait another year. Boy, was it worth the wait! If you follow my blog regularly, I’m sure you read about our experiences!

We are working on scheduling smaller trips this summer, and I cannot wait to share our adventures with you! In fact, we just took a road trip to Burlington, Vermont this past weekend. Take a look!

Thank you to all of my followers for reading and keeping it “kassual.” What are your goals for this year or overall life goals? Feel free to share them in the comments!

 

Do you have a kudos file at work? Make one!

It’s been some time since I sat down and wrote about self-help tips. Most of my blog has been focused on travel, which is fantastic, but I originally started KeepitKassual to share happiness tips with others that I have found helpful. This particular topic has been on my mind for a few months and I am super excited to share it with you—especially if you need a happiness boost in your job!

In any day-to-day, it’s hard to press the pause button through all of the meetings, to-do lists, and big projects that eat up your day at work. One day, I found myself troubled with my “go go go!” lifestyle at work and realized that I wasn’t taking time to give myself a mental high five at all of the awesome work I was doing. Whether it was a well-crafted press release or a beautiful creative project, I was not sitting back and appreciating a job well done. So, I started to give myself a pat on the back and recognize when I did something well by writing myself “thank you” and “awesome work” messages in my journal I keep at work. It really did help!

I also noticed, however, that I was not necessarily tracking the positive feedback I was receiving from my co-workers and other employees at my organization. I am lucky to be in an organization where we do congratulate each other and I realized it would be of great benefit to keep track of the compliments I received at work.

One morning, I created an electronic folder in my email and titled it “Kudos.” From then on, every time I received an email detailing positive messages like “great job!” or a “thank you so much!” I would file it in that folder. It’s such an easy way to track how much others appreciate you!

Since then, I’ve collected a handful of emails from my teammates, to my supervisor, and from our CEO with positive messages about my work ethic, teamwork, and work quality. Rather than skimming over the email, taking those as an “OK to proceed” and move on to the next project, I started to save them. I have found this ritual to be super fulfilling for it offers a sense of positive closure to a project. I take time to appreciate my hard work, someone else appreciates what I have completed, and I file it in a folder that keeps track of all my accomplishments!

It’s also a useful tool for when you may start to feel down at work. During the busy seasons at work, I start to feel run down and sometimes hopeless that I won’t get all of the tasks done on my to-do list. The moment I start to lose faith, I skim my kudos file and I immediately feel confident and motivated that I can not only get the job done but also get it done well!

If you find yourself feeling down at work, try to find an innovative way to file your “kudos.” Do you write it down on fun sticky notes and place them in your office or on your desk, or do you file them electronically so you can look at them wherever you are? Whichever way, filing your kudos and successes will help boost your happiness and make you feel fulfilled in your job! And don’t forget to share the love as well!

A weekend getaway|Burlington, VT

This weekend, we took a road trip with our friends to one of our favorite spots, Burlington, Vermont. We always seem to visit Burlington when it rains or when it is cold, but it is still a fun town with lots to do and see (and eat!). We had a great day!

Ian and I first visited Burlington in November of 2015. We had a great weekend exploring the city, eating comfort food and trying out craft beers. Though we did find some sunshine on a bike ride, this was my usual look:

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This time, it was a lot warmer and we were able to stick to a couple of layers and be a little more comfortable. I wanted to share a few photos of our day!

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We walked up and down Church Street exploring the shops and stopping at a few places for some snacks: Champlain Chocolatier for some fudge and hot cocoa is definitely a must! This street is filled with character: musicians, kiosks, and all types of restaurants from a quick bite to a sit-down meal.

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We stopped into one of my favorite bookstores: Crow Bookshop. It’s filled with new and used books.

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And of course, we made sure to walk down to the waterfront and enjoy the beauty of Lake Champlain.

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I hope you enjoyed a small glimpse into my weekend. Have you been to Burlington? What are some of your favorite spots?