Celebrating with an Afternoon Tea

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One of my favorite things to do is to go to an Afternoon Tea. This past weekend, Tom and I celebrated our 3rd anniversary together at the Langham Hotel in Boston, MA.

If you’re unfamiliar with Afternoon Tea, it’s an English tradition that started in the 1840’s when the Duchess of Bedford, Anna Maria Russell, invited her friends over for tea and food.

These days, Afternoon Tea is a lovely meal that usually includes a pot of tea, tiny sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, and petite desserts.

Going to an Afternoon Tea is one of the things that makes me feel really good. It’s a special treat that allows me to slow down, relax, and enjoy spending time with others.

Here are some photos from our Afternoon Tea.

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The Top Row (Left to Right): Cucumber and Butter Sandwich with Radishes, Lobster Sandwich
Bottom Row (Left to Right): Ham and Pickle on Brown Bread, Chicken Salad Sandwich

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Included in Photo Above: Chocolate Profiterole, Strawberry Mousse Tart, Lemon Meringue Cupcake with Blueberry, Cherry and Milk Trifle

DIY Afternoon Tea

If you’re looking to save money, I highly recommend that you host an Afternoon Tea in your home. This is something Tom and I are planning to do at some point over the summer.

If your friends enjoy dressing up, this could be an occasion that they can fancy it up for. Or if your group is more casual, have a relaxed dress code, and everyone can enjoy Afternoon Tea in casual clothes. You don’t even need to have a teapot. You could simply boil water in an electric kettle or on your stove top. If you don’t have tea cups, mugs will likely do just fine.

A DIY Afternoon Tea is a great way to spend time with your friends and take a break from the boozy bar scene. Though, if alcohol is a must, tea pairs very well with sparkling wine.

Tea Sandwich Recipes

To make sure your guests are well fed, be sure to provide them with a few kinds of tea sandwiches.

Here are some awesome recipes that I’ve found online:

Cucumber and Butter Sandwich – This is the classic Afternoon Tea sandwich. It’s surprisingly delicious for something so simple. This recipe calls for a vegetable peeler, but if you don’t have one, feel free to just thinly slice the cucumbers.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Sandwich – Who doesn’t love a sweet sandwich? Strawberries and tea go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Sharp Cheddar & Branston Pickle Sandwich – This sandwich includes a British pickled relish, made with several kinds of vegetables.

For even more suggestions, The Food Network has an extensive list of 50 Tea Sandwiches.

Scone Recipe

Finally, no Afternoon Tea is complete without a good scone. I recommend making plain ones and providing clotted cream, lemon curd, and strawberry jam. I’m going to try my hand at baking the Classic Scones Recipe by the King Arthur Flour company. This recipe combines 2 cups White Flour with 1 cup Whole Wheat flour.

Have you hosted or attended an Afternoon Tea? Let me know in the comments. 

Why You Should Write With a Fountain Pen

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gold_nib_fountain_pen

History of the Fountain Pen

The first fountain pen was patented by Petrache Poenaru in 1827. The metal nib of the pen allowed him to write for longer periods of time, without having to refill the ink. It was an improvement over the dip pen.

You might think that something that was invented so long ago would have no relevance for people today. However, the fountain pen community is alive and thriving.

Joining the Fountain Pen Community

I learned most of what I know about fountain pens from the Reddit Fountain Pen Community.  In this subreddit, people will post their pen purchases, ask for advice, and show off their ink collections.

Are Fountain Pens Luxury Items?

Fountain pens do have the reputation of being luxury items, and certainly, there are pens that sell for thousands of dollars.  However, one of my favorite pens retails for around $15. It’s the Pilot Metropolitan (image below). My Pilot Metropolitan is from the Retro Pop collection and has an italic nib.

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Why Write with a Fountain Pen?

I love writing with fountain pens, because it is easy on my wrist. Unlike a ballpoint pen, you don’t have to put as much pressure on the page when writing. Fountain pens also write beautifully.

Another reason that I love writing with fountain pens is that there are a wide range of ink colors out there. My two first ink purchases have been the Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-Peki ink, which is a Deep Cerulean Blue, and the Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-Budo ink, which is a Crimson/ Purple color. 

kon_peki_ink             yama_budo_ink

But What if I’m Left-Handed?

There’s a myth out there that left-handed people can’t use fountain pens, but let me assure you, as a left hander, that is simply not the case.

Brian Goulet, of the Goulet Pen company, has put together a great video of tips for left-handed fountain pen users.

Lefties may write in a different way than, right-handers, but we make it work.

 

Have any of you used Fountain Pens before? If  you have and would like to share your experience, please leave a comment below.

 

 

A Simple Framework for Self Care

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If you look around your home and realize you have no clean dishes, the dog is in need of a good grooming, and the garbage is smelling ripe, you may be thinking, “Who has the time for self care?”

But when you are taking care of yourself and feeling good, it becomes so much easier to do the things you need to do. All those chores won’t feel so overwhelming when you’ve taken the time you need to care for yourself.

Self care is one of those things that people aspire to do, but never quite get around to actually doing. So let me tell you (in the words of the great Donna Meagle and Tom Haverford)

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A Framework for Self Care

Funny memes aside, self care really is one of the best things you can do to improve your quality of life. Here is a framework that I like to use to figure out what kind of self care would be most helpful to me.

There are five main types of self care:

  • Mental
  • Emotional
  • Physical
  • Spiritual
  • Social

Mental Self Care

If you’re feeling bored and intellectually unstimulated, then you probably would want to focus on doing some mental self care. This could be something like practicing crossword puzzles, reading political articles from a national newspaper, or listening to a science podcast.

Emotional Self Care

If you’re feeling weepier or angrier than normal, you may want to work on some emotional self care.

The most helpful activity I’ve found for emotional self care is journaling. I prefer to write down whatever pops into my head, but you may decide that you get your writing juices flowing with a prompt or two.

If you’re interested in journaling, but want a resource to help guide you, I highly recommend that you check out Katie Dalebout’s book, “Let It Out: A Journey Through Journaling.” I found it to be both an inspiring and practical guide on journal writing.

Physical Self Care

With physical self care, you could delve more deeply into a fitness routine, change up your skin care lineup, get a new hair cut, or even just go for a walk. Physical self care encompasses anything that helps you to care for your physical body, including fitness, nutrition, and personal hygiene.

Spiritual Self Care

You may or may not be religious, but many people find solace from believing in a higher power or deeper meaning. Your higher power could be God, or it could be nature, ethics, or something else entirely. If you’re feeling lost and worrying that you may be on the verge of an existential crisis, you may benefit from exploring your spiritual side.

You could learn about Buddhism, read the works of great philosophers, try out Kundalini Yoga, or even just take the time to ponder over the big questions: Why are we here? What is the purpose of human life? Asking these kinds of questions can make you feel a real sense of gratitude for the world that we live in.

Social Self Care

Another key aspect of self care is to make connections with others. Social self care is very helpful when you are feeling lonely. You may want to make plans with a friend to grab coffee, go to an event at the local public library, or call up your parents.

I hope you found this framework helpful. I’m interested to hear about all the ways that you practice self care. If you have a minute, please let me know in the comments below!

 

Four Interesting Ways to Learn More About Yourself

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In some ways, you might think that it’s easy to know who you are and what you’re all about. After all, yours is the only perspective, you will ever have. However, the human tendency towards self doubt and denial can often blind you from the greatest truths about your own identity.

Maybe you’re the kind of person who tends to think about the desires about those around you, before even your own. Or, perhaps, you are so focused on what you feel that you “should” be doing, that you find yourself at a loss to understand what it is you truly want to be doing.

Another reason that you may want to take some time to be more introspective, is that, like everything in this world, you are changing at every moment. Every new thought that you have, every action that you take, all of these things have led to this particular moment where you exist.

You probably had very different interests when you were a middle-schooler vs. today. You may have been all about pizza and burgers as a child, but now you find that you are a health food aficionado. You may have also changed your mind about political issues over the years.

The fact that you are a being that is constantly changing, means that it’s important to take time to pause and evaluate where you’re at today. However, learning more about yourself does not have to be a boring chore.

Here are four ways to learn more about yourself.

Try an “Escape the Room” Challenge

Have you heard of Escape the Room? They’re a huge trend that’s popping up all around the world. The premise is this, in order to win the game and “escape the room,” you have to work collaboratively with others to solve puzzles.

Escape the Room games will help you learn more about yourself, by allowing you to see how you do under pressure. You can learn what your teamwork style is and learn more about the way you respond when faced with challenges.

Here is a website that has an extensive Escape Room Directory. The list is organized alphabetically by country. The United States listing breaks it down further by state and then by city.

Take a Personality Test

The Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of the most popular personality tests. What’s great about this test is that there are plenty of online companies that will provide this test for free. They’re typically a Freemium model, where, if you find yourself interested in learning more about your personality, you can pay to get a more detailed report.

I found out that I’m an ENFP, the personality type that Myers-Briggs calls “The Campaigner.”

I’ve taken the test several times, but most recently at Truity. To take the test for free, select “The TypeFinder® Research Edition.” Choosing this free version gives them permission to use your answers for their research.

Another site that I’ve used and enjoyed is 16Personalities.

To learn more about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), you can visit the Myers & Briggs Foundation website.

Try out MIT’s “Moral Machine”

MIT’s Moral Machine simulation asks you to decide what a self-driving car should do in a number of situations: where the car must choose to whether to save the drivers and passengers or the pedestrians in a fatal accident.

This simulation will help you learn more about your moral assumptions. It’s an updated take on the philosophical “Trolley Problem,” which originally proposed by Philippa Foot in 1967. It was also written about extensively by Judith J. Thompson in the Yale Law Journal in 1985.  In fact, the “Trolley Problem” was the moral issue that led me to major in Philosophy at Boston University.

At the end of the simulation, you will get to see a summarization of what factors you tend to value most. Are you someone who values people following the law? Or are you someone who wants to protect even the law-breakers? Did you tend to save the senior citizens or children? I don’t want to give too much away, but it really is an interesting and thought-provoking simulation.

Try A New Fitness Activity

Maybe you’re not the typical gym goer, but have you thought about trying rock-climbing at an indoor gym? Or you could try kayaking or Dragon-Boat racing.

Or maybe tapping into your inner-child is that way to go. You could join a Kickball league, or get friends together to play some good old-fashioned Wiffle ball.

If studio classes are more your style, a lot of studios will offer discounted or free classes for new customers. Some interesting studio classes are popping up, like Acro-Yoga and Burlesque dancing. You can also try out discounted fitness classes by purchasing class-packs on Groupon, LivingSocial, or GiltCity.

I’d love to hear from you. Please let me know if you’ve tried out any of these suggestions. And if you take the MBTI test, please feel free to share your results. As I said before, I’m an ENFP. 

Connecting with Others in the Age of Social Media

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A study by Dr. Brian Primack et. al in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found an association between feelings of social isolation and higher levels of social media usage.  Social media purports to connect us, and yet, despite the constant sharing of Facebook Statuses, Instagram posts, or tweets, it can actually make us feel more alone.

While I am an active user of social media, I also remember fondly what it was like to call up my friends on their land line in the late 90s. Instead of texting, we had hour long phone calls, giggling over the boys we liked and planning our outfits for the school dance. Even email was more personal back then. My friends and I would exchange long emails to each other. Whenever I received an email, it was exciting, because it was usually a message from one of my friends. Today, it seems that 95% of my emails are from companies promoting their brand.

So the question remains. How can we make meaningful connections with one another? While there certainly is value in social media, we need to also recognize that the primary purpose of these platforms is marketing. Facebook’s algorithms would rather show you paid advertisements than posts from your friends. After all, this is how they make their money.

Facebook and other social media are great tools to promote your side hustle or your business, but I would argue that social media is usually not the best option for staying connected with others. So here’s some food for thought:

Instead of “liking” your friend’s Facebook status, why don’t you send her a text and ask for a good time to chat on the phone?

Instead of tweeting a complaint about a local coffee shop, you could politely ask to speak to the manager.

How about setting up a Skype date with a long distance friend, rather than simply commenting on their latest Instagram post?

This is not to say to avoid social media like the plague. After all, Facebook events are a quick and easy way to invite friends to your next potluck dinner. Twitter is very useful for tweeting complaints to airlines and other bigger companies. And sometimes you just want to see some delicious food and cute puppies and kittens on Instagram.

However, I highly recommend that you recognize when social media is helping you, or simply making you feel more isolated. In my own life, I aim to use social media more intentionally and recognize when a phone call or a long chat over coffee would be a better way to connect.

How do you like to connect with friends, family, or acquaintances? Do you find that social media helps or hinders your ability to connect meaningfully with others?

 

 

5 Easy Things To Do When You’re Feeling Down

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If you’re feeling down on yourself, overwhelmed, or lost, here are five easy things you can do to help put you in a better mindset.

1. Look at Cute Videos of Baby Animals

Unless you somehow hate all animals, baby animals make the world seem like a better place. The smile response is pretty instantaneous. For one of my favorite baby animal videos, check out Nayembi, a baby Gorilla at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Spoiler Alert: The girl likes her broccoli!

2. Do a 5 Minute Meditation

I like to use the app, Calm (available on Android and iOS). If you prefer not to use an app, you can simply focus on your breath. There are many variations on breath work meditation. My favorite to do to calm myself down is to breathe in for 4 counts and breathe out for 8 counts. This helps you to breathe in deeply and breathe out slowly.

3. Remember to HALT

HALT is a technique that asks you to examine whether you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Sometimes you may be feeling down, but are not sure why. Remembering to HALT will help you pinpoint what you are feeling, so that you can do something about it. If you’re hungry, eat a healthy snack. If you’re angry, you could vent your feelings by writing in your journal. If you’re lonely, reach out to a friend by phone or text. Or better, yet, schedule some time to hang out face to face. Finally, if you’re tired, make sure to get enough sleep.

4. Put Away Your Screen

Right now, we live in a world where screens are everywhere. They are at home, at work, and in your pocket. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or out of sorts, even looking away from your screen for 5 minutes can be helpful. It also has the added benefit of resting your eyes.

If you’re not sure what to do with yourself without your screen, that’s a sign that you may need to limit your screen time. It’s okay to start out slowly! Try mindfully brewing yourself a cup of coffee or tea. Or refill your water bottle and sip it slowly for five minutes.

5. Plan Something Fun to Look Forward To

When you’re feeling sad, a great trick to feeling better quickly is to make plans to do something incredibly fun or enjoyable. When it comes time to do the thing you planned, you’ll make yourself feel much better. However, the anticipation of the fun event will make you feel better even sooner.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Check the upcoming showtimes at your local movie theater. Pick a showing and put that on your calendar. If it’s a particularly popular movie, you can buy your ticket in advance.
  • Plan a board game night with your friends
  • Check out a local event website and pick any event that appeals to you and fits your schedule.
  • Text a long-distance friend that you haven’t heard from lately and plan a Skype date.

I’d love to hear your suggestions as well. Please let me know in the comments what helps you when you’re feeling down. Take care!

 

Reflections on Politics, Gratitude, and Thanksgiving

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This seems like a good time to write a post about gratitude. Sometimes I think that when we hear the word gratitude, we immediately groan and prepare ourselves to be told how we ought to be thankful. Or maybe that’s just me? I think the issue that I have with gratitude is that we’re often told we should be grateful for something in response to a negative emotion we’re having. If I’m having a bad day and I’m sad or anxious, the last thing I want is for someone to tell me that I should be more grateful.

I think it’s the way that gratitude is often held up as an obligation that really rubs me the wrong way. After all, it’s not a choice between being sad or being grateful. Gratitude does not and ought not to overrule your feelings. For example, while I am grateful for things like my Fiance, my dog, my family, and my friends, I am at the same time also fearful and sad about the state of politics in the United States at this moment. My reaction to Trump being the President-elect is not to think that at least I don’t live in Syria. So yes, I am grateful for my relative safety compared to those in Syria, but that does not negate my fears of living under a President Trump.

Gratitude has its place, certainly. However, I think that gratitude should come out of a sense of love for one’s blessings, rather than a sense of obligation. Gratitude should not be something that will negate righteous anger, or understandable sadness and anxiety. Even if you’re feeling sad for no reason at all, it’s very hurtful for someone to tell you that you ought to disregard that feeling and be grateful, when that’s the last thing you could imagine feeling.

I think what I’ve discovered this Thanksgiving is that gratitude can coexist with a range of feelings, and that we should be wary of those who tell us to accept unfair circumstances just because someone out there has it worse than us. Gratitude should not give way to complacency. I will remember my gratitude for my country, but this gratitude will not make me stand idle in the face of hatred.