Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Summer Daze

Can you believe that today's the last day of summer already? I absolutely love autumn, but I'm also not thrilled that winter is around the corner. I think I squeezed in quite a bit this season...

1. Hikes and picnics at the park
2. Coffee dates, brunches, summer drinks, and sangria nights with friends
3. Moved out of my apartment
4. Performances by my musical friends
5. Bike rides along the Hudson River
6. A musical adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night
7. Marc Anthony concert for my mom's 65th birthday
8. Trips to the museum
9. The Dominican Film Festival
10. My little cousin's first trip to the Bronx Zoo
11. Baseball games
12. Rooftop parties
13. Movie screenings on the grass
14. Rock climbing and surfing

You know what I didn't do though? Swim! The only real swimming practice I've had in this year was during our trip to the Bahamas in April. There's always next summer I guess. As for autumn, I'm looking forward to:

1. Freshly picked apples
2. Pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon pancakes
3. Hot cider
4. Sweater weather
5. Changing leaves and fall colors
6. Settling into a new routine
7. More selling and donating things
8. Doing craft markets and shows for Porcupine Hugs
9. Picking up the knitting needles once again
10. Starting to write my memoir
11. Planning for a life abroad in 2017

What are you looking forward to in this next season?

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Chat With: Janet Brent

Sometimes a good way to get a little motivation to keep pursuing your goals is to talk to others who are paving a similar path for themselves. Over the next several weeks, I'll be chatting and posting about others who've marched off the norm in their careers or personal lives, have ditched their 9-to-5 jobs to pursue their true passion, embraced the freelance life, have made travel a priority, created their own business from the ground up, or are just kicking ass according to their own rules.

Name: Janet Brent
Location: Portland, OR

Describe your current work + life situation.

I can work from anywhere with an internet connection. But that usually just means I work at home. My business helps small businesses in personal development, spiritual growth, and health and wellness to grow their community and profits through brand storytelling, ebooks, and digital courses. My background is graphic/web design so I help with all the design and tech to make it happen. I have a roommate at an apartment and still hesitant to put down roots after being a digital nomad and living abroad for four years.

What route did you have to take to get here?

As I mentioned, I lived abroad for nearly four years. I also traveled around the world for a year while running my business. I took a super unconventional path that I wouldn't necessarily recommend. With no savings or cushion, I took a one-way ticket to live in Southeast Asia. I took a full year career sabbatical living without much money, which included being in a Buddhist monastery retreat and walking 400 miles in Palawan island with a local Filipino. I also lived in a poor slum community because I was so broke. I learned business and web design skills from scratch while starting freelancing on the side. It was kind of like being in the kiddie pool. A training phase. I've improved SO much, both in my skill levels with design and tech and how to build a business.

What are some of your biggest accomplishments so far?

My accomplishment is just not giving up. So many times I keep thinking I should just throw in the towel, but I feel compelled to keep going. It's been a long, slow road. It felt very much like a hobby business for the first few years, not getting much traction. Now I'm serious and motivated to grow beyond myself. The moment you decide to do something, it is done. Linear time just has to catch up. To make a full-time living doing what you love takes some level of success, but now I'm ready for my next phase of success: scaling my growth!

What are some of the greatest things about living the life you do?

I love the freedom my schedule allows. I could take a random road trip to Seattle to meet a client and eat my way around Pike Place Market, run a 10k in Portland, and focus on "client onboarding", which really just means relationship building, and then hand off tasks to delegate with another designer (I'm absolutely about to do all of those things). I love making business decisions and literally feel like the sky is the limit with how I want my business to look like in terms of creative offerings.

What are some of the obstacles you’ve had to face on your journey?

So many obstacles! As I mentioned, living in a slum. That meant battling my poverty mindset and stories around lack which has taken me a long time to overcome because I'm stubborn. It's still a process and a work in progress. So I've had to face battling a high amount of debt, living with my mom which made me feel like a loser (I'm moved out now), and other things. I'm still working on it.

Your perfect day…what would that look like?

Still somewhere exotic, and traveling. Or at least somewhere near the ocean! After living in Oregon most my life aside from the time in Southeast Asia, I've got my sights on California. Having some sort of movement practice like yoga in the morning, and exercising at least 30 minutes a day. Drinking a green smoothie for breakfast. Working on my mindset through meditation or mantras and affirmations, and gratitude practice. Basically being more intentional on my self-care to make sure I'm operating at an optimal level. Then meeting a new client on Skype, and doing three to four hours of client work a day, then one to two hours of marketing and working on my business. And, of course, being with my special someone and cooking something good for dinner together, which usually just means he takes over while I wash the dishes - I'm fine with it.

What’s your current mantra?

Dance to your own beat.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Dear Janet, Seriously, you're amazing. Just do you. The rest of it will work itself out.

And what advice would you give those who are scared of making that leap?

Baby steps will get you there. So think small. It sounds counterintuitive because you want to think big. But in order to get there, you have to take small incremental steps. Think small. Give yourself some cushion. It doesn't have to be money, necessarily, but even a community of people that has your back. So start networking. That's the smartest way to get a job or make a job these days. Also, I said I had no cushion when I traveled to Asia and that's partly true, because I had zero savings and less than $8,000, but I had my family, and then a Buddhist monastery - and that's a huge cushion! If you want to see how to live abundantly, live in a Buddhist temple.

What inspired you to light that fire under your ass?

It was a "nightmare client" that really humbled me to the leaky faucet in my business and motivated me to be better. It was the last straw that made me realize if I was going to take my business and myself seriously, I had to take an honest look at what wasn't working. And it wasn't just "bad clients". There's a lot of personal responsibility that could be improved upon to eliminate bad clients. That meant being a better communicator and better boss, even if that just means bossing myself. I've now hired a team member to fix the so-called leaky faucet in my systems and feel so much better about my process! Learn from bad experiences and it can only make your business better. The bad client was a blessing in disguise because it meant that I decided once and for all to quit my hobby business and start taking myself seriously. I'm always so much more motivated by what I don’t want (nightmare clients!) that it made me want to try harder, rather than give up and get a job.

What’s on the horizon for you?

I now have a full client docket so that means I need to raise my prices and start building my team of designers. I say that so nonchalantly, but it's scary raising your prices at first! But it makes my business better to do so, and it helps clients invest better, too. From there, I'd love to create some sort of digital course of my own, get on the webinar game, and just step up and play bigger, one small step at a time. Eventually, I'll be holding women's retreats around the world, and partnering with other amazing entrepreneurs to hold cruise ship retreats and a self-publishing company.

I also get a percentage of sales with a corset company so I'd like corsets and boudoir photography in the retreat experience. Something about self-love, creative flow, and transformation. I want to inspire women to craft their stories and go on their own adventures, their heroine's journey or Queen's Quest. I also have some erotica stories bursting to come out and am partnering with a friend around that. I'm mostly dreaming because I have a hard time planning things in terms of calculated decisions, but have a brain dump full of ideas that I'm sure will happen eventually. I'm much less linear left brain and more creative right brain. What if dreaming was synonymous with planning? Because I honestly think that's the only way I can get things done. I don't understand people who have their businesses planned out a year in advance or more. It amazes me. I wish I could do it, but I just have to do it my way, since I'm the boss, for better or worse!

Follow Janet on her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Images: Janet Brent

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

A Sunday Morning Trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

I haven't posted in a few days so I wanted to check in with you guys. How has your week been going? It's already getting a bit chillier in New York City so I've been trying to squeeze in more strolls in the sunshine before my favorite season arrives in a week. Despite glorious weather we'd been having, I woke up in such a foul mood Saturday morning, which was made only worse when the MTA totally screwed my chances of getting to my hair appointment downtown on time. I was turned away and forced to have my hair cut another day. I added that to a pile of "woe is me" complaints that eventually subsided after a good night's rest, the first I'd had in days.

To cheer me up some more, Alex suggested we walk over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for some "fancy coffee" first thing Sunday morning. We walked through Pop Up New York's Upper East Side street fair, tasting popcorn samples, perusing through art, and watching the vendors finish setting up for the day's event. It's definitely several steps up from the typical tube socks and sausage festivals. On our walk back home, we discovered the adorable and hilarious artwork of Joey Allgood.

At the Met, we strolled through the maze of galleries, finding new pieces of interest on our quest for the "fancy coffee on the Met roof." My favorites are the marble statues and mythological characters (this one, of the goddess of the moon and hunt, makes me happy whenever I see her) and it seems that the room full of medieval armor and badass weaponry has a way of luring us into it without my realizing it.

At the Met roof, we were treated to a gorgeous view of the New York City skyline and artist Cornelia Parker's sculpture inspired by the artwork of Edward Hopper, the classic red barn, and the Bates family mansion from the movie Psycho, the last of which was inspired by Hopper's painting House by the Railroad.

Unfortunately, there was no hot coffee to be had at the rooftop café, so we meandered our way back through and down the museum floors to settle into another café. We went to the Met just so this man could get his morning cup of coffee, but when we realized that we only paid a few bucks for the donation-based entrance and get to enjoy a drink surrounded by tapestries and fine art, we agreed that it totally beats Starbucks any day.

I was starving by the time noon rolled around so we tried Candle 79, an organic and vegan restaurant just a few blocks from the museum. While my vegetarian boyfriend knew exactly the type of place he'd suggested, I didn't realize there would be no eggs and bacon on my plate until I browsed through the menu. It didn't matter though; the Benedict and Nuevos Rancheros that we shared tasted really good. I almost forgot that I was eating tofu instead of meat.

Since then it's been workity work to turn in three stories for the first half of this week and gearing up for new deadlines sure to come tomorrow followed by a packed weekend.

How about you? What have you been up to this week? Anything fun coming up?

Monday, September 5, 2016

Cuteness from Target's Cat & Jack Children's Collection

I recently paid a quick visit to Target to buy a bathing suit for that spontaneous surfing trip last month when the cutest backpack caught my eye from the children’s aisle. I’d been pretty meh about the Forever 21 backpack I’d been using for the past year because a) the zipper on the front pocket busted just a week or so after I bought it, b) it was larger than I need it for - toting around my 13-inch laptop and some papers, and c) because it was bulkier, it was sometimes hard to find things in the bag.

Herschel Supply Co. was an early contender when I wanted to move on from messenger bags, but my picks turned out to be way too small for my laptop. They were perfect for my petite frame, but completely useless for my actual needs and on the pricier side so when I found Forever 21’s larger Herschel knock-off, I bought it. It served its purpose for a year, but now it was time for a new one.

This summer, Target launched its children’s collection Cat & Jack using the design ideas from kids around the country and while I can’t say I paid any attention to the clothing, their accessories are the cutest things ever. When I saw the kitty print backpack hanging on that rack, I knew it had to be mine. I mean it had ears! I was fairly certain it’d be the perfect size for my laptop - it was - and still have just enough room for other items. And bonus: I’ve had this thing for a month and that front pocket zipper is still holding strong.

Cat & Jack might be created by and for children, but below are a few accessories that might be a fun addition to your collection.

1. Kitty Print with Ears Handbag | 2. White Bears Cross Body Bag | 3. Snap Closure Multicolored Backpack | 4. Mint Arrows Cross Body Bag | 5. Rose Gold Cat Pencil Case | 6. White Polka Dots Cross Body Bag | 7. Fox Pencil Case | 8. Multicolored Chevron Cross Body Bag | 9. Chevron Backpack


Friday, September 2, 2016

Potential Energy

This week, I finally turned in the keys to my apartment and closed a chapter I’d been stressing over for the last few months. After a string of long days hauling things out of what used to be my home, waiting on Craigslist people who would sometimes just fail to show up entirely, and seeing my belongings get thrown out, donated, or placed in someone else’s hands, I crawled out on that final day emotionally spent. Even though that apartment stopped being home a good month before, it still sucked to see it devoid of the attention I’d put into it. A part of me didn’t care, I’d been wanting to move on for a while, but in the process I became, as a my best friend put it, an “accidental minimalist.”

Burning Man has been going on this week and for the second year in a row I’ll be missing the man going up in flames Saturday night. Even though I spent last fall and winter determined to return and make it my own, I slowly found that desire wavering as the new year went on. I do want to return and I do miss it, but other priorities took over. Plus, I want to go back when I no longer have something to prove to somebody else and right now that’s just not the case.

I was lying in bed the other night thinking about this and wondering what the hell will come next. I want to make whatever happens after this pretty damn amazing so that this was all worth it. It’s quite obvious though, I still have something to prove.

That said, I’ve already seen a few positives flow in over the last week:

- After discovering that I’d lost my health insurance coverage, I was able to purchase a new plan that is so much more affordable for me. I’d been dragging my feet on switching out for years and this unexpected mess forced me to finally make the leap.

- A new arrangement with therapy as well as no longer having a full rent to pay every month means that I can hack away at those nagging medical bills and save up for future plans.

- I’ve been considering joining a yoga gym in the neighborhood and exercising regularly again. I fell off last September when I realized how much weight I’d lost, but now that I’m back at a healthier weight, I’m excited to reintroduce it into my schedule next week.

- I’ve landed new freelance positions and can’t wait to share those stories with you once they’re published.

I keep being reminded that sometimes you have to take one step back to go two steps forward. I always saw that as a failure - letting up on any progress even if it’s to catch your breath, reevaluate, and then make the next move - because as I’m stepping back, no one can assure me that there’s a step forward coming up for sure. All I see is the increasing distance between my goals and me.

Dad, who feasts on analogies, likes to use another metaphor to describe this stage I’m currently in. When a baseball pitcher goes up to the mound, he said, he sees his target, looks behind, winds up, and in that pulling back he’s able to drive that pitch farther and faster.

I like this imagery better. For one, it sounds way more exciting and purposeful than taking a step forward and back here and there. It incorporates the need to take stock of where you are and what's around you, prepare yourself for the leap, and then throw all your efforts into the aim. Sometimes you hit the mark and when you don't, you dust yourself off, pick up the ball, and launch yourself over and over again improving your technique along the way. It's exhausting work.

Thankfully, along with providing me with a constant stream of wise words and dad jokes, my father taught me how to have a mean throw and I learned how to not be so afraid of the ball.

Monday, August 29, 2016

A Picnic in Central Park

This weekend I surprised the boyfriend with a picnic at Central Park. It's been a beautiful week and he's been working so hard that I wanted to treat him to a few hours of guilt-free relaxation. I have to admit I'd been feeling frustrated and neglected because in the beginning we used to spend a crazy amount of time together. Now? It's been work and life stuff taking over. It's all understandable, but I wanted some time to reconnect.

I asked him to meet me by the fountain at Bethesda Terrace (remember how much I love that plaza?) and then we went off to find a grassy secluded area under a tree. I went all out for this: vegetarian BLT sandwiches, heart-shaped carrot cake bits, avocado cucumber rolls, and other snackies. I even made root beer floats on the spot! Thank God the vanilla ice cream survived the journey on such a warm day.

We lounged around in the shade before packing up our picnic and walking through the park and the Upper East Side. He led me to the Metropolitan Museum, its path lit up as dusk set in, and we sat by the water fountains to watch the passersby. It's so easy to let the time pass by just focusing on to do lists, life goals, and projects day in and day out so this was just the kind of laid-back summery day I'd been craving all month.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Three Harlem Coffeeshops

We all know I love a good writing session at a coffeeshop and during my time living in Harlem (for a whole year!), I visited three that I really liked. Luckily, I’ll still be able to visit the first two on the list without it being a complete inconvenience from where I'll be living in Uptown Manhattan.

The Chipped Cup: I first visited The Chipped Cup several years ago during an apartment viewing, but never returned until just a month ago. For a stretch, it became my go-to suggested place to meet Uptown friends for a coffee date* that was walking distance from my place and easily accessible for those who lived in Washington Heights. It can get a bit packed inside and it’s not the most inspiring of interiors, but the backyard more than makes up for a little retreat from the Broadway traffic out front.

*Disclaimer: I don’t drink coffee so can’t comment on how tasty the java is at any of these places. I’ll stick to water or fruit smoothies if they serve it. One friend has completely brushed aside my opinions on whether a coffeeshop is good or not based solely on WiFi and seat availability, but I hope you’ll humor me.

Max Caffé: After inviting a friend for a coffee date at The Chipped Cup, she returned the favor by telling me about Max Caffé, and as soon as I walked into the place, I fell in love with the dark and cozy atmosphere. There’s outdoor seating, but I wanted to stay inside. Exposed brick, big comfy couches, spaces separated by curtains, paintings and mirrors on the walls, red and wood everywhere. I found a quiet corner for the afternoon and then waited for my friend to join me for what would be four hours of chatting and laughing. Next time I'm there, I’m totally devouring one of their Prosciutto di Parma sandwiches with fresh mozzarella and basil on pressed ciabatta bread.

Astor Row Café: I discovered this spot in early January and was so happy to have found a coffeeshop within walking distance from my house that had plenty of table space, free WiFI, played fun music, and served delicious smoothies and sandwiches (their mozzarella with tomatoes and avocado on ciabatta yummy and yes, I clearly have a sandwich type). I remember it was a Saturday night when I first walked in and spent hours getting a head start on my tax expenses. A part of me thought wow, this is what my life has become, but I didn’t seem to care much after that.

I also remember telling my friends that I was never bringing anyone into this coffeeshop after a friend broke up with me at another local place. Exactly two weeks later, I invited Alex to Astor Row Cafe to meet for the first time. I guess I'll never learn, but it probably won't matter as I doubt I'll ever return to this place after this month is through and I'm completely moved out of the apartment. Boo.

But onward and upward, literally. Soon, I'll be spending more time in Uptown spots in Washington Heights and Inwood and sharing new places I've fallen in love with or old ones I'd forgotten all about.

What local spots are you frequenting these days?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Hanging Ten

This weekend was so humid and hot in New York City that when Alex invited me to learn how to surf with him and his cousin, I was on that Long Island Railroad within the half hour. We spent our Sunday morning splashing around the cool water in Gilgo Beach and even though I still can't really swim, I decided to give surfing a go anyway. Wouldn't you know that I actually managed to hop on the surf board, hop on an incoming wave, jump onto my feet, and ride that wave for a few feet?! I wiped out so many times before and after that, but it was such a fun experience and one that I'd never even cared to try before this weekend. It feels awesome to see myself slowly shedding my fear of drowning at the beach and I can't wait to jump on a board again.

Now to squeeze in more pool time and swimming practice before the summer is over. I can't believe I haven't gone to a beach or a pool since our cruise trip back in April. I feel like I've been wasting the summer away, though with the way this humidity has been brutalizing us, I won't be sad to see autumn come earlier.

This little getaway was a needed one, too. A week ago, I started moving back in with my family and have been readjusting to living in my childhood home again. After struggling to hold it together in Harlem, I've decided to give up the apartment and spend time refocusing on some goals before jumping into a new lease. It's going to take a little getting used to, living with my mom and brother, but overall it hasn't been as bad as I feared. Of course, there are some major pros (way more family time, saving money, familiar and beloved neighborhood) and cons (goodbye privacy, sleeping on the couch, bickering family), but I think the act of leaving such a stressful situation and being around family as I figure out my next move will prove to be so much more valuable than the sacrifices I'll have to make over the next several months.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Three Simple + Yummy Vegetarian Dishes

I like to cook for others, it's how I show I care, but dating a vegetarian has come with its own set of challenges. Not only will he never get to taste my baked chicken or juicy ribs, but my expertise in the vegetable department is severely lacking. Growing up in a Dominican home, our dinners consisted of our three major food groups: rice, beans, and meat. Any small amounts of veggies were either mixed in with the rice or the salad so as to ensure that consumption went unnoticed by us picky eaters.

Last fall, my weight had dipped back down to 76 pounds and by the time the new year rolled around I was barely clocking in at 79 pounds. I haven't been my baseline weight of 86 pounds (and even that just barely gets me into "normal weight" territory) since 2008, but just a couple months into the new year, I gained five pounds. I'd met with a nutritionist and started making my daily smoothies again. I was feeling happier, eating more overall, and stocking up on two of my boyfriend's favorite foods: eggs and avocados. We'd start the day with a hearty breakfast often consisting of vegetable omelettes, banana pancakes, and a homemade smoothie. We'd snack on fruits throughout the day (mandarins were my obsession as I began weening off of juice) and then have a variety of pasta, salads, rice, beans, and veggies for dinner.

Below, three tasty dishes you can whip up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Breakfast: Quinoa is a nutrient-rich food, high in protein, healthy fats, and antioxidants. And while I'd only ever had it once before this year, I've come to see it as a healthier alternative to white rice. Cook quinoa in a rice cooker or a saucepan according to instructions (typically one part quinoa and two parts water, bring to boil, reduce to simmer, and cover until liquid is absorbed). In a separate frying pan, sauté tomatoes and onions with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add in an egg or two and continue cooking until eggs are done. Turn off heat and mix in quinoa. Top with avocado.

Lunch: I don't see myself ever being able to say goodbye to bread. I could attempt to curb my sugar consumption in all kinds of ways, but bread will always have space in my heart and in my tummy. For a filling sandwich, try using eggs, avocados, tomatoes, greens, and sprouts. I love sprouts so much when I order Asian food, but I don't know why I don't keep them in constant stock. They add a fun texture to my sandwiches.

Dinner: Pasta! And green stuff? Apparently cooking kale properly is tricky. Sauté a washed bunch in a large pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper and cover for 30 or 40 seconds until it turns a deep green color. Then turn over and remove from heat before it overcooks and turns bitter. In a separate skillet, sauté diced tomatoes with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Mix in kale and tomatoes to pasta of your choice like gemelli shown here.

Do you try to limit your meat consumption? What are some of your favorite vegetarian dishes?

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Little Prince Debuts on Netflix

When Paramount suddenly dropped the animated adaptation of The Little Prince, Netflix swooped in to save the film and is finally debuting for streaming today. It’s been a good decade since I read the tale about a stranded pilot and the boy who would watch a string of 44 sunsets when he was sad, so I revisited it a couple nights ago before I fell asleep. It’s supposedly a children’s tale, but clearly meant for the adults who might read it to them and to the children those adults used to be. The story is somewhat inspired by the life of its author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a French writer and aviator who disappeared over the Mediterranean during a mission in 1944. This was just one year after he released a book that would go on to be translated into more 250 languages posthumously. I even have a second copy in French so that I could study the language as I read both versions side by side.

The stop-action film looks so dreamy, I can’t wait to see this beloved tale come to life on screen. On my agenda for this weekend: PJs + cereal + Netflix + chill.

P.S. Check out the other titles Netflix is releasing this month.