Cooking is My Meditation

These past couple of years, I’ve done yoga on and off. When things have gotten stressful, I’ve taken some yoga classes, and then I would go a few months and take more when the stress came back.

While the poses in yoga are fun, my favorite part is the meditation aspect. Being told to sit there with a quiet mind is so freeing, and I can definitely say I feel the yoga bliss after some meditation practice in class.

Being a college student, I can’t afford (time or money-wise) to go to yoga classes regularly. I know it’s very doable to start a home practice, but I guess I’m just that kind of person who responds well to instruction instead of my own willpower. I’ve tried meditation on my own too, and it’s hard to decide to sit there for even 5 minutes without thoughts racing through my mind when I know there’s so much other stuff I can do at that time.

Analyzing my stress patterns has shown me one interesting thing, however. While I turn to yoga mostly when I get stressed, I also cook more when I am feeling that pressure. There’s something about being in the kitchen that calms my nerves and alleviates any worries I have about the future, because in that moment, I am chopping my carrots or whisking my dressing. There’s no place in the kitchen for job application stress or relationship drama, just the promise of delicious food in my immediate future.

This week is the start of reading week for winter quarter at my university. That means I have two research papers and a final exam to complete in the next week or so, and just that thought alone can burden my waking hours as well as my nightmares.

That’s why, instead of taking this evening to study or do anything school-related, I cooked a mega-recipe from my newest cookbook, Thug Kitchen, using three different recipes and sets of ingredients. I spent a couple of hours total in the kitchen, between chopping my vegetables, boiling the noodles, and cleaning all the dishes, but those were two hours of me being present, and isn’t that what meditation is about?

Sometimes I can get down on myself for failing to follow through with my latest promises like, “This week, you’re going to meditate for real.” But I have to remember that we all have our ways of checking out and tuning in, and I guess that’s what cooking does for me.

Besides give me a week’s worth of delicious veggie noodle salad.

If I Were A Sim

I used to play Sims 2 back in middle school, before the days of intense homework, essays, college applications, and clubs. Even though it felt like the most mindless activity out there at the time, I sometimes think about the game to this day, especially in terms of the whole aspirations thing.

Quick Sims lesson for anyone out there reading this who hasn’t ever played: When you have an adult Sim, you get to choose a life aspiration for him or her. Aspirations can be family, fortune, knowledge, popularity, romance, and so on, and they govern the Sim’s wants and fears in the game.

Sure, the Sims is just a video game I liked to play (as in build houses and people, play for a night, and start over again the next time I start the game), but its aspirations feature comes back to me sometimes, especially on weekends like this.

At the time I was playing it, I was very focused on my schoolwork, so you could say my aspiration was knowledge. I brought a lot of energy to all the essays I wrote for class, all the geometry problem sets I completed, and even all the posterboard presentations I created throughout the years. But after going off to college, strangely enough, my aspirations shifted. In the beginning of my freshman year, I ended up somewhere in the popularity sector. My new friends were numerous and spanned a range of clubs and activities, and I reveled in the time we would all just hang out and do nothing.

Now that I’m in my last few months of college, I think my aspiration has shifted again. While many people in my position might be aiming for fortune or something along the lines of power (a hidden aspiration on Sims 2), I think I am drifting more into romance.

In the interest of sparing you all the details, I have a very close friend I met almost three years ago when he also attended my university. He is two years older than me, so even though we have talked almost every day since we started hanging out, we’ve spent most of that time in different states. We aren’t in a relationship because we don’t want to start something long-distance, but it’s still there.

He visited this weekend, and we had a great time.

And it tore me apart in an embarrassing way when we said our goodbyes, which obviously happen every time we get to visit, because I have this unfounded fear that this will be the last time we see each other. If I were a Sim with a romantic aspiration, my fear of abandonment or moving on would be very real. At least real enough that I’m pretty sure it is exactly what I experienced today when I was curled up on my couch sobbing about silly things that ultimately shouldn’t affect my life so much.

It’s really interesting to look back on my priorities through the years. I still put an extremely high amount of time into my work and efforts at finding a job after graduation, but it seems my heart lies in other matters.

The Girl Who Tried to Do Everything

This is a tale of the girl who tried to do everything.

Every night before going to bed, this girl would make a list of all the things she wanted to do the next day. She wanted to get 8 hours of sleep, though, so this list time never took up a bunch of minutes. But it did take up a ton of thought throughout the day, every day.

This girl wanted to complete her double major at Northwestern and also keep working her two jobs, one on campus and one at a publishing company. This girl wanted to go out with her friends on weekends but also have time to curl up on the sofa with a good book. This girl wanted to eat at all the exciting restaurants in town but also cook great meals at home. This girl wanted to finish her first novel, keep a blog, apply to jobs, learn to code, maintain her Spanish language skills, work out every day, learn Ashtanga yoga, keep up with all of her magazine subscriptions, clean her room and do laundry more often, and take more photographs. But she also wanted to sleep. And eat. And breathe.

Every day, these lists not only reminded her of what she wanted to accomplish the next day, but they also reminded her of what, after months, she still hadn’t had time to work on at all. More and more, with every passing day, these lists started to seem impossible, and this girl realized she needed to pare down her goals, at least for now.

She decided that she wanted to cook at home, keep a blog, apply to jobs, and do the work/classes thing. Still a lot but manageable. And she stuck to it for a few miserable weeks.

This girl wanted to have enough time to appreciate her senior year, but she also wanted to complete a six-month publishing internship that she was sure would get her a job. She trudged through six very difficult weeks of walking up to two hours per day in zero-degree temperatures to her internship and began to neglect her school work, social life, and campus job, eventually realizing that this set-up could not last for long.

“I’ve got this,” she kept telling her mom, her roommates, and her best friend. “It’s really stressful right now, but as soon as March hits, I’ll start my spring class schedule and make sure to schedule enough time for work so that I won’t be stressed out. It’s not a big deal.”

This girl wanted to take a fun British history class and a fun introductory German language class centering on Viennese music, but that didn’t afford her much time for work, so she also wanted to take a 20th-century Japanese history class or a Soviet successor states class because they left more gaps in the middle of the day to go to work. This girl wanted to spend the spring quarter of her last year of college taking classes she would never get the chance to take again, but she also wanted to continue her internship.

This girl wanted to sleep the night before registration, but she also wanted to stay up just a few minutes longer and figure out what to do about classes for next quarter. A few minutes turned into a few hours, and all of a sudden, the next morning, sleep-deprived and stressed out to the point of breaking, she burst into tears in her campus job supervisor’s office and cried for almost half an hour in his presence.

This girl wanted to keep her work-life situation, but she also wanted to keep sane.

She realized that nobody can do everything and that you have to pick your battles. She learned she can’t please anyone if she can’t keep herself at peace, no matter how much she denied her anxiety and stress levels.

This girl decided to quit her internship. She didn’t want to think of herself as a quitter, but she didn’t want to look back on her senior year and regret the exhaustion and emotional state she was in, no matter how awful she felt to be quitting an internship she generally liked besides the schedule.

She relaxed for the rest of that evening and night. Unaffected by the usual worries about Tuesday morning internship stress, she spent her Monday evening reading, cooking, starting her job applications, working on her blog, and hanging out with a friend.

This girl realized that no one can have it all, but one can have enough to be happy, and that’s all any of us can ask for.

Me and My Online Shopping Habit

Like many other busy, college-age millennials, I love online shopping. Sometimes you need to order textbooks, sometimes you need to order shoes, and sometimes you need to order liquid rennet (okay, maybe that’s just me).

Online shopping makes it so easy to get the things you need, and some retailers, like the almighty Amazon, can get stuff to you within 24 hours of clicking “Buy”. If you’re like me and don’t have a car that can take you to the nearest kitchen supplies store, furniture store, you name it, you can pay to get it delivered to your doorstep.

I love online shopping, but I also hate it. It’s so easy for impulsive me to order things to come straight to my apartment, and Amazon makes it so easy by saving my addresses and all other pertinent information that it’s hard to say no. I have all these things I want to do and places to travel, but often what happens is that the things I want edge out the things I want to do financially just because it’s easier to order a bunch of stuff online than it is to put that money aside and save up to Climb Mount Kilimanjaro or get a plane ticket to Paris.

It’s fun to get a package and open it up and get new stuff, but every time I buy something online, there’s always this twinge of regret for the future vacation or adventure that will now take longer for me to save up for.

Lent is coming up, and while I don’t usually celebrate it by giving up anything in particular, my goal this time around is to curb unnecessary spending. Yes, this includes Amazon purchases and other online shopping, even food delivery. If I really want something, I will go get it myself.

At least until I really really need something. Oh online shopping. How you taunt us all.

Laundry Woes

I will admit here that I don’t change my sheets as often as I should. I finally had a bit of extra time yesterday, so I did all my laundry and washed my bedding, and when it was time to go to bed, I was very happy to be sleeping in my clean bedding—but then I ended up not being able to sleep.

I’ve noticed that every time I try to sleep on freshly washed bedding, be it in my student apartment or at home, I always have trouble sleeping. Then I get anxious and toss and turn and get too warm, and all of a sudden it’s 4 in the morning and my alarm is still, sadly, set for 7:30, and that’s when I know my next day is going to be rough.

When washing and changing bedding, you’re eliminating the sweat and dead skin cells (gross but true) that can worsen asthma, eczema and acne over time, and you do so by using nice, soapy, fragrant laundry detergent that helps scrub these possibilities away. The only problem is that sometimes you need a new laundry detergent or new fabric sheets because the kind you have might be too fragrant.

I’ve been using the same off-brand variety for the past year now, since I only do laundry between every few weeks to once per month. It has some kind of lavender smell, which is great because lavender is my favorite smell. The fact that it’s “laundry lavender” and not an authentic scent, however, is the reason that this smell, usually a calming variety that helps people fall asleep, smells more like soap than flowers, and too strong at that, and keeps me awake at night.

I’ve been having trouble sleeping the night after washing my sheets for a long time now, and I usually chalk it up to something else—Too much sugar before going to bed? Too much noise outside? Too much on my mind? New surroundings when I’m home after being away?—but the common thread is freshly washed sheets.

Like I said, I don’t wash my sheets enough as it is, but the fact that I’ve realized it’s the strong laundry smell keeping me awake at night while I bury my head into the pillow at every angle possible makes me not want to wash my sheets again for a long time.

For anyone like me who might be kept awake by laundry smell in their sheets, there are a couple of options. One is a lighter-scented laundry detergent. They exist, and they are probably better for you anyways (who knows?). Although the smell of freshly washed clothes and sheets after taking them out of a warm dryer is one of the finer smells in life, it might be worth investigating different scents of laundry detergent. (I wonder how to get tester samples.) The other solution I can think of is to just have more sheets, and that way when I first wash the sheets, I can let them air out somewhere that’s not my room while I use sheets that are still technically fresh because they are un-slept on but don’t carry such a concentrated detergent smell.

Since clean, hygienic sheets are important, these options are definitely something to look into. Good sleep is always a good thing, but the idea of sleeping on sheets that are stale enough to not smell like laundry (a.k.a. not smell clean) anymore is enough to keep anybody up at night.

Social Network Disorder

Hi, I’m Megan, and I’m a social media addict.

My Monday morning started off unlike most Monday mornings I have ever had. Instead of remaining curled up in bed on my phone counting down the minutes until I had to get out of bed lest I be late for work, I rolled out of bed early, fixed myself a healthy, hearty breakfast of homemade yogurt and a giant Sumo tangerine (these things are so ugly but so good), and went grocery shopping, all before the hour of 10 a.m.

I realized, while I was eating breakfast, that my phone was still in my room, and that didn’t bother me at all. I spooned up my yogurt, read a book and watched the snow fall outside, thankful that the latest mess of a blizzard got me out of both of my jobs that day.

Monday mornings are usually the farthest thing from bliss in my experience. I am usually stressed out before I even wake up, and I bide my time on social media no matter if I’m in my bed or eating breakfast. But this particular Monday was something special. Of course it was nice to have the day off from work, but there was more than that. Starting my day on a calmer note than digital technology usually offers me brought a certain peace.

That is, until that afternoon when I legitimately spent an hour on my phone bouncing between Facebook, Instagram and Gmail. Yes, you read that right. An hour.

“It got to the point where the digital updates that were furiously filling my news feeds were becoming an addiction. They were a constant interruption pulling me away from the work that I was otherwise enjoying. Just imagine that Facebook is like a digital water cooler. I was drinking A TON of water every hour.” —Jason Thibeault, “Why I Just Quit Facebook”

Social media addiction is a real thing, and I have experienced it in all its compulsive and psychologically damaging glory. In fact, Facebook addiction has been likened to substance abuse for activating reward centers in the brain yet potentially causing social isolation and feelings of inferiority. For me, the feelings of inferiority have been affecting me for at least the past year. High school acquaintances I’m connected with are traveling all over the world, college friends are going on romantic dates with their significant others, and I’m on the other end, Bridget Jones-ing it up on the couch, having been on my phone for an hour, living my life vicariously through my Facebook newsfeed yet feeling lousy about it at least 80 percent of the time I’m on there—which, admittedly, is an embarrassing amount of hours spent questioning your own hobbies.

Of course, I have no reason to feel lousy at all. I’m a senior at one of the best universities in the United States, I’ve traveled to many amazing places in the world and have had life-changing experiences there, I work out every day (and love it), I have had more internship experience than you can shake a stick at, and my grades aren’t half bad either. But then when I’m enjoying a night inside reading a good book, I check Facebook and see people I know having fun at clubs or traveling to exotic places, and I just have to wonder, “Dang. What’s wrong with me? Why am I here when I could (should?) be doing that?”

I know I must not be alone in these thoughts. If Yik Yak (yes, more mind-numbing social media) is any indication, everyone around me feels inferior to everyone around them—and that’s literally impossible. We all have our ways to engage with the world around us, whether they involve reading good books, going on walks from the bus stop to work in the winter (yep, that’s where the above photo originates), playing video games, cooking, you name it. What works for some people doesn’t work for others, and that’s the beauty of life.

I’m here writing on this blog as a way to entertain my own thoughts instead of playing audience to others’ life portrayals, at least for now. While I did not end up deactivating my Facebook (they gave me scary messages, y’all, and I still do like my photos that are over there), I plan on consciously trying to keep my distance for a while. It’s a sort of experiment, but it’s more of a baby digital detox. (I say “baby” because I’m keeping my access to good old Instagram, and if I stopped checking and responding to my emails, I’d probably lose my jobs and get thrown out of school.)

So here I am, with the intentions of taking a step back and being more present in my own world instead of others’. Sure, a blog is still Internet-living, but I see it as a way to focus my energy within and engage with the world around me in a new way. Plus, with this Facebook-free thing, I’ll have plenty of free time for blogging.