Packing for a 10-day international vacation

Packing Essentials

In order to pack smarter, you need the right equipment. I pack everything for my trips into a standard carry-on suitcase that is expandable if more room is needed. Going to Austria in March is a bit of a chillier affair, and fitting larger sweaters and bulkier clothing into a small carry-on can be difficult. The solution? Compression bags. You can find these bags on Amazon, Walmart or Target for less than $10. You roll up your clothes, stuff and seal the bag then roll the bag the release any trapped air. This helps cut the bulk of your clothes in half! I ordered mine from Amazon for $9.99.

Investing in a toiletry organizer is also essential. Because I check my carry-on bag, I put all of my toiletries in my carry-on so I avoid having to unpack my bags going through TSA. My bathroom bag unfolds and comes with a hook so I can hang it up and get to everything I need quickly. I found mine at Walmart!

A few other small items to take that makes packing for coming home easier is plastic bags for your dirty shoes, a laundry bag for dirty clothes and dryer sheets to make sure the stink from old clothes doesn’t seep into your still clean clothes.


My Spring Vacation Wardrobe

Packing for spring comes with its challenges. The weather can be finicky and you are likely to be wandering around in the rain, maybe even snow, at some point. Yet you could also get a few warm days as well. The key to packing for a spring vacation is choosing options that are all in a similar color scheme and that can be easily layered. This makes it easier to pack fewer shoes as well, as one or two pairs of shoes will be able to go with every outfit.


Clothes

  • Flannel
  • Black, blue and tan sweaters
  • Black cardigan
  • Gray vest
  • Heather black and black/white striped long sleeve shirts
  • Black and white half button down top
  • Red Tie Top
  • Green Patterned Top
  • Chambray button down dress
  • Blue jeans, black jeans, and olive jeans
  • 2 sets of pajamas
  • Socks, bras, underwear

Accessories

An easy way to dress up a seemingly boring vacation wardrobe is with jewelry and scarves.

  • Belt
  • Black tights
  • Warm scarf
  • 2 patterned scarves
  • Gold and silver stud earrings
  • 2 dangly earrings
  • 2 necklaces
  • Simple gold and silver rings

Shoes

With a simple wardrobe color palette, your shoe needs simplify as well.

  • Black rain/snow boots
  • Gray Converse
  • Black booties
  • Tan slip-ons

Toiletries

Everyone’s toiletry bag looks different, but if you’re curious as to what I pack, keep reading.

  • 3 oz shampoo/conditioner
  • Facewash
  • Deodorant
  • Perfume roller
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush
  • Toner
  • Moisturizer
  • Night cream
  • Cotton pads
  • Cotton swabs
  • Makeup removing wipes
  • Bar soap
  • Razor
  • Dry shampoo
  • Hairspray
  • Hair ties and bobby pins

Makeup

When traveling I try to keep my makeup simple day-to-day: a little concealer, powder foundation, bronzer, eyebrows, and mascara. But I also pack an eyeshadow palette and a few fun lipsticks for the nights I plan on hitting the town for a nice dinner and drinks.

  • Primer
  • Concealer
  • Powder foundation
  • Bronzer
  • Highlighter
  • Eyeliner
  • Mascara
  • Eyebrow pencil/gel
  • Eyeshadow palette
  • 2 lipsticks/lip liner
  • Beauty sponge
  • Brushes
  • Setting spray

And that’s that! If you want to follow my travels next week as I galavant around Austria, follow me on Instagram at marissa_gaal, or like my Facebook page for updates!

What’s in my bag(s): Backpack and purse packing for travel

Welcome to round three of unsolicited travel advice! This week, I am writing a few blogs about what I pack in my bag(s). Today, I’m going to give you a behind the scenes look at what I wear to the airport, and what I pack into my backpack and purse when flying and prancing around my vacation destination.

IMG-4030Airplane Attire

I typically wear leggings or sweats on a plane, but as I am getting off the plane and onto a train to Austria when I land in Germany, I decided to put in a bit of effort so not to be embarrassed to be seen outside of airport walls. A comfy sweater, jeans, and shoes that are easy to slip on and off are key.

Backpack

My backpack includes everything I need to be comfortable, entertained, and, if need be, sedated on a long flight. If I am going to be stuffed into a seat like a sardine next to a stranger, I’m going to make the most of it.

  • Comfy Socks: I talked about this a bit in the last blog post, but they really make a world of difference when it comes to comfort level.
  • Extra underwear and bra: When traveling internationally, your travel time is much more than the 8+ hour flight. Sometimes you are traveling for upwards of 15-20 hours total. To combat the grunge of non-stop travel, I always pack extra undergarments to feel fresher when a shower is out of the question.
  • Change of clothes: This is just an iteration from what is listed above, but if you are planning on hitting the town running when you land, have extra clothes to change into when you disembark the plane, or in the off chance your luggage gets lost.
  • Headphones/Earbuds: Whether you are listening to your own music or watching the movies on board bring your own headphones.
  • Charger: A lot of my media is pre-downloaded on my phone. I always take my portable phone charger with me on the plane. Make sure it is charged in advance!
  • Outlet converter: I always pack my outlet converter in my backpack in case I have a layover in a different country and need to charge electronics. Also, a precaution in case luggage is lost.
  • Books: Duh.
  • Deodorant: Again, to combat the airport and plane stench.
  • Toothbrush: No one wants fuzzy teeth.
  • Snacks: There are plane snacks and meals, but these are nice to have handy if you aren’t a fan of your options or if you have dietary restrictions.
  • Neck Pillow:  This is a “do or die” necessity.
  • Water Bottle: I hate trying to balance a cup of water on my tray table. Bring your own bottle with a lid to make life less complicated.
  • All my pills: Zinc to combat sickness, melatonin to help me sleep, Dramamine for motion sickness, the list goes on and on.
  • Brush, hair accessories: Bringing little things like a brush or hair tie can help you feel refreshed right before or after you get off of a long flight.

Purse

These items don’t need much explaining, other than the fact that I am constantly in fear of being hungry and without food to eat so I pack double snacks in every bag.

  • Mints/Gum
  • Wallet
  • Passport
  • Boarding Passes
  • More Snacks
  • Chapstick
  • Cash
  • Extra headphones

Hopefully, this gives you point of reference when packing for your next trip, stateside or otherwise. Friday I’ll be laying out and posting each item I’ll be packing for my trip next week to Austria, along with my tips and tricks for fitting everything I need for a 10-day European vacation into a standard size carry-on bag. Stay tuned!

If you want to be kept up-to-date on my travels in the coming weeks, follow me on Instagram @marissa_gaal.

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My Basic International Vacation Essentials

Hi again! Glad you found your way back. Wednesday I gave unsolicited advice about how I survive airport hellscapes and international flights. Today, that unsolicited advice continues. The topic: my must-haves for an international vacation.


Number 1 International Travel Essential of All Time

Dry Shampoo. It is the beginning and end of every “must have” list for travel, be you man, woman or child. After getting off an airplane, we all look like greasy Pringles chips that have been held captive in an aluminum can for 8+ hours. GET. DRY. SHAMPOO. It helps your hair last longer so you don’t almost short out your hair dryer and straightener every day. Plus, who has time to wash their hair when there are sights to see, food to eat, and vats of wine to drink?! My go-to brand is Batiste.

You can find it at Target, Walgreens, Walmart, etc. – $3-$5.

International Vacation Essentials


Portable Phone Charger

Now that Apple has spilled the tea on phone updates and how they kill our battery life, be sure to take a portable phone charger with you when you are out and about. If you are using your phone to navigate, get on wifi at coffee shops or communicate with family and friends back home, this is a must.

I use the iMuto charger from Amazon because it holds 4 iPhone chargers – $18


Outlet/Voltage Converter

Even if it is your first time traveling and you are only planning on hitting one country/continent, look for an all-in-one outlet converter. This way you don’t have to rummage through five different converters to find the right one. While it’s difficult to do, try and find an outlet converter that also has a voltage converter. This way you won’t burn out your hair tools, which you should always put on the lowest setting to start when using a converter!

This is a great, cost-effective, all-in-one outlet converter – $11


International Data

When I first traveled to Europe, international data wasn’t an option for me. Now, if you are an iPhone user, and you have your data on in another country, you automatically have phone service. If you are Verizon user, this costs $10 for each day you use your data. I recommend going this route if you are traveling to a new country for the first time, or want to be able to make contact with other people on the trip easily. Granted, free wifi in shops, hotels, and restaurants is much more common in Europe than it is here, so there is always that free option!


Physical Maps

Even if you do plan to use your phone to navigate to specific sites, having a physical map of the city you are in is more helpful than you would think. Your phone gets you from one place to the next, but it doesn’t show you on a larger scale where everything is located in relation to each other. A map of the area can show you the most efficient way to travel from site to site and it makes a great memento to bring back with you!

You can find these maps at airports, hotels or souvenir shops.


RFID Wallet

Pickpockets are common in larger cities, and they can smell out tourists quickly. But they aren’t just snatching purses anymore. Some people have access to scanners that can read your credit card information through your wallet and purse. For this reason, I carry an RFID wallet with me wherever I go now. They aren’t big and clunky like they used to be in the past.

This wallet holds your passport, cards, ID, cash, change and even boarding passes all in one place. Plus it’s cute to boot. You can use it as a wallet or carry it as a clutch.

I found mine on Amazon – $14


Snacks & Water

In Wednesday’s blog, I talked about the money saving benefits of having food and a water bottle on hand for airports and flights. The same is true for when you have your boots on the ground on vacation. Sometimes you may not be able to find a café or restaurant open when you’re walking around, or you just need something to tide you over until dinner. Keep some granola bars in your purse and your water bottle handy.

Many restaurants in Europe use bottled water that costs around six euros. Bringing your own water isn’t looked down on in this case. Or, if your me, take the 6 euros you’d spend on water and get yourself two nice glasses of their cheapest wine.

This water bottle collapses and fits right into your purse – $10


Cash

Before you leave, convert your money at the bank for local currency. I don’t care if you called into your credit card company about your travel plans. Shit can go south very quickly. Also, depending on the size of city, shop or restaurant you are visiting, some places may not take cards. You can use the cash as a safety net, or a way to keep track of your spending so you stay on budget.

If you don’t exchange the money prior to leaving, you can exchange your US currency at the airport when you land as well.


Tours and Media

You know the entertainment and media we talked about on Wednesday’s blog? You don’t want to pack that away yet. If you’re visiting multiple cities in a country or plan on taking trains to nearby cities, you’ll want your music, podcasts, and books on hand.

Another great tool you can use is pre-downloaded guided tours. Instead of paying a tour guide to show you around, you can find free/cheap pre-recorded tours that you can download to your phone.


Thanks for checking in twice this week, and I hope these tips come in handy during your future travels.

Next week I will be posting on Wednesday and Friday as well. Wednesday I’m going to show you what I pack in my purse and backpack for an international flight and vacation. Friday I’ll showcase my true talent: what and how I fit everything for a 10-day spring European vacation into a standard carry-on suitcase.

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My Basic International Flight Essentials

Okay, hi. I am trying something a bit different for the next few weeks. I leave for Austria in a little over two weeks for vacation, and my mind is constantly preoccupied with packing lists and checking off to-dos. Having lived in Scotland for three months and traveled to Europe twice (soon to be thrice) in the last five years, I thought I would take time to impart my limited and biased traveling tips and tricks onto you.

I will be posting today and Friday. Today’s blog is all about my basic international flight essentials, how to survive TSA, avoiding overpriced airport food and drink, and making an otherwise uncomfortable 8+ hour flight a bit more bearable.

Airport/Flight Essentials

Collapsible Water Bottle & Snacks

Airports are miniature chasms of hell, where you are trapped in purgatory with screaming children, people who take up three seats at the gate to take a nap, and overpriced everything. There is no reason to spend over $20 on a bottle of water and expired Chex Mix snack packs.

Take a collapsible water bottle with you. They take up little space in your bag and the water you put in them is FREE. Also, despite rumors, you can take food through TSA and onto the plane. I have seen families with pre-packed lunches meander through checks with no problems. Take snacks that are filling like, Cliff bars, homemade trail mix, or even beef jerky. Plus, part of your plane ticket price includes one, most likely two, meals plus snacks and drinks. You won’t be starved on the plane, I promise.

Check out this cheap collapsible water bottle from Amazon – $8.99

Earbuds & Headphones

One important thing I learned from my travels is that despite their cute, well-cushioned design, spending 8+ hours with earbuds in can actually be painful. I would suggest taking earbuds AND headphones for a long flight. Not only are headphones more comfortable, but they let the person next to you know you don’t actually care about her compression socks or clay jewelry Etsy shop.

These cushy headphones from Amazon are a bestseller – $39

Neck Pillow & Eye Mask

Whatever you do, do not buy a neck pillow at the airport. They are overpriced and pathetic. I’ve recently discovered the joy of a self-inflatable neck pillow that is great for a number of sleeping positions on a plane. Try to find one that supports your chin or the back of your neck, so you aren’t constantly bobbing forward and wake up with neck pain. Self-inflatable ones take out the hassle of actually blowing it up, and are super easy to store in your backpack.

If you are someone who struggles to sleep with any light peeping through, invest in an eye mask. Planes never lower their lights completely, and it is beyond annoying to try and sleep when the person next to you has their screens at full brightness. Also, another tactful way to ignore your seat mate’s rambling.

Plush self-inflatable neck pillow from Amazon – $20

Blackout eye mask from Amazon – $10

Slip-On Shoes & Warm Socks

This piece of advice is nothing new, but please, for the love of whatever god you worship and for the love of the people behind you in TSA, wear slip-on shoes. They can be slides, a slip-on sneaker, flip flops, booties, sandals, hell even socks with sandals. If I have to watch one more wanna-be Real Housewife untie her gladiator stiletto heels at TSA, someone is going to end up with a shoe in their ass.

If you opt out of the socks and sandals look, I suggest packing warm socks in your personal bag. Airplanes are a unique climate. I am always cold, but slightly sweaty from the faux leather seats. If you sit near a window, one half of your body may be numb by the time you land. Having some fuzzy, designated airplane socks is a small luxury that makes an otherwise uncomfortable travel experience a little cozier.

I wear these shoes from Target to the airport – $24

Find warm fuzzies socks at Target here – $3

Eyedrops

This is a small add-on to your TSA toiletries bag, but if you are a contact lens wearer like myself, these are a godsend after waking up on the plane and your contacts and eyeball have fused together. Any box store will have these for you!

Supplements & Vitamins

Packing supplements and vitamins may seem frivolous and something to leave off your endless packing list, but hear me out. Jetlag, on top of breathing 100+ strangers breath for hours on end, is going to affect your immune system in one way or another. Here’s a list of vitamins to consider:

  • Melatonin: It can help you fall asleep on a long flight and when battling jetlag
  • Zinc: Taking these once a day, in general, helps keep your immune system in good order
  • Dramamine: If you are motion sick, these are great. Pro tip: Take one when you get home after a night of drinking to reduce hangover symptoms (you’re welcome).
  • General painkillers: Jetlag can cause headaches, and constant walking can cause soreness. Pack these as a precaution.

I pick up most of my supplements and vitamins from Target or Walgreens.

Entertainment & Media

Flying is a great time to catch up on shows, movies, books, etc. But come prepared. Without wifi on the plane, make sure anything electronic is pre-downloaded. Download your favorite movies and shows off of the Netflix phone app, save your new podcast episodes, and download your Spotify playlists. Pack a few books you’ve been meaning to read or upload the audiobook to your phone. If you are going to be using your phone a lot on the flight, be sure to put it on battery save mode and take a portable charger. If you want to emulate my cool airplane vibes, take some knitting or crochet to keep your hands busy as well.

If you need some good, quick reads for the flight, here are a few suggestions:

If you want to check out a few new podcasts to pass the time:

Thanks for stopping by early this week! My Friday’s blog will feature my basic international vacation essentials. You can read about what you need for your hotel or hostel, and what to take with you while you’re out and about.

Next week I will also be posting on Wednesday and Friday. Wednesday I show you what I will be packing in my purse and backpack for my 10-day European vacation. Friday will feature what and how I pack all of my clothes, shoes, toiletries and more for a 10-day European spring vacation into a standard carry-on suitcase!

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Prioritizing Health Over Weight

Like most people, I have experienced weight gain since leaving high school, and again since leaving college. In attempts to combat the weight gain, I’d go through spurts of exercising and eating well, then give up when I didn’t see results soon enough. After dozens of these cycles, and only quite recently, I learned I was approaching my weight and health from the wrong angle.

I just want to lose three pounds…

Ever since putting on the “Freshman 15” I thought I was bound to be unhappy until I could undo the damage I had done with an endless meal pass during college. I’d lose a few pounds, gain a few pounds, feel defeated and decide I was never meant to be happy with my body. I’ve avoided putting on a swimsuit for two years. I refuse to wear shorts and spaghetti strap shirts in the summer because I’m self-conscious of my legs and arms. I’ll wear jackets in 80-degree weather because I’d rather be covered up than comfortably dressed. I thought if I could lose those pesky pounds I could wear what I wanted to wear, be more confident and comfortable in my own skin, do away with insecurities and be genuinely happy.

But that’s bullshit. I shouldn’t let an insecurity keep me from wearing what I want to wear or doing what I want to do. I was making the choice to be unhappy and to put life on hold until I reached some arbitrary goal. No one was constraining my life but me. It wasn’t a matter of changing my weight, but my mindset.

Putting bodily health over body mass

Throughout the process of trying to lose weight, I discovered I was setting myself up for failure. I was only looking at one aspect of my life, not my overall health. On top of putting on weight, I was struggling to keep my AD symptoms under control with medication, I wasn’t sleeping well and didn’t have the energy or motivation to put in time at the gym. Moving into 2018, I decided the way I felt should be a higher priority than the way I looked.

I set goals unrelated to weight such as how many fruits and veggies I eat a day, how much water I drink, how many hours of sleep I get, the number of days I work out in a week, how often I up my weights in the gym, and slowly increasing my cardio endurance.

Two weeks ago I decided a good place to start listening to my body was completing a Whole30 challenge. I am on day 6 of 30 and finally feeling normal again after a few days of fatigue, bloating and irregularity. Doing an elimination diet such as Whole30 isn’t for everyone, and I am not advocating for or against it. I am trying it in order to understand what foods my body needs, what foods my body doesn’t, how food affects my energy levels, and if this type of diet will help reduce inflammation related to my autoimmune disorder. Losing any weight is a small cherry on top.

Prioritizing how I feel over how I look

The most freeing decision I’ve made since entering 2018 was prioritizing the way I feel over the way I look. Don’t get me wrong, I still focus on the way I look more than I would like, but I am making a conscious effort to push those feelings aside. The idea that pure bliss and happiness waits for you 5 pounds down the road is a myth. It’s rare that we ever let go of our insecurities entirely. Everybody deals with insecurities no matter the shape, size, or walk of life. But we don’t have to feed those insecurities. We don’t have to give them power over our happiness. Do the best you can to feel the best you can and everything else will fall into place.

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I Don’t Know If I Want Kids, And That’s Okay

Hi. My name is Marissa, I’m 24 and…I don’t know if I want kids. Some people reading this might agree, others vehemently disagree. If you’re my mother, you might be clutching your metaphorical pearls and gasping, “Why would she do this to me?!”

Now listen, I said I don’t know if I want kids. I’m not saying I will. I’m not saying I won’t. It wavers and changes. All I can say with certainty is that I don’t want kids now or in the near future, for a variety of reasons. Those reasons may change, they may not, but they are my reasons and, ultimately, my decisions to make.

Young, Dumb and Broke

While I am young, I am not particularly dumb and broke, and I’d like to keep toeing the line between poverty and living above my adequate means for the foreseeable future. Having a kid tends to drain a lot of economic resources. I know what you are thinking, “There is no perfect time to start a family,” but I’m going to live my life as if there is. Not only do I not have or want to spend the finances associated with raising a small human, I’m not in the place I want to be to start a family anyway, mainly because I don’t know if or where that place exists.

Oh The Places I’ll Go

I have heard many friends, family members, and celebrity talk show guests describe how having a child changes all of your priorities, as they rightfully should. But, what if I don’t want my priorities to change? I’m content with all of my priorities and admitting that my priorities are purely selfish. I entered my 20s with the mindset that if there is any time for me to explore, invent/reinvent myself, and take risks, it’s my 20s. That is where my priorities lie. Four years in and I still have no regrets. I’ve lived in the UK and Alaska, I’ve traveled to Europe twice, I have my dream apartment, a good job, a kick-ass dog, and time to spare. As far as my priorities go, I’m right on track.

The More Babies I Meet, The More I Love My Dog

People tend to compare babies and puppies. They both have very little to no bladder control, they’re cute and squishy, need a specific feeding schedule, and love you unendingly. However, despite my uterus’ best arguments, and she makes some pretty good ones, the more babies I meet, the less I really want one. But, the more puppies I meet, the more I want. At this moment in time, my dog is more than enough to feed my maternal instincts. I’ll be able to force him into cuddles as long as he lives. The same can’t be said for humans.

Why Should People Stay the Same?

As you have probably deduced by my very obvious reasoning, I do not want a kid. Not now. Maybe not ever. Call me selfish, call me lazy. You’re not wrong. But don’t hold me to it. I am not the same person I was 5 years ago. I am not living the life I thought I would be living 5 years ago. And I won’t be the same person 5, 10, 15 years from now.

Asking me if I want kids is liking asking a kindergartener what they want to be when they grow up: the answer will probably change day to day, week to week, year to year.

I shouldn’t be expected to have my life figured out with little over two decades of experience being a human. I’ve been an “adult” maybe 3 years. Let me be confused, let me selfish, let me wander and not assume I’m completely lost. J.R.R. Tolkien said it was okay.

I don’t want kids. Maybe I will someday, maybe I won’t. And that’s okay. Not only am I privileged enough to control when and if I have kids, I’m allowed to change my mind too.

My UVB Light Therapy Experience: Like a First Date, but Worse

Being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder is both relieving and frustrating. You’ve found an answer but, unfortunately, this one answer will only lead to a growing number of follow up questions. The most common question being, how do we treat this? If you live with an AD, treatments for your specific condition can range from prescriptions to diet restrictions to herbal supplements. Part of my treatment equation is UVB light therapy.

Simply put, UVB light therapy is medically-prescribed tanning. Unlike regular tanning beds, which give off both UVA and UVB lighting, UVB narrow-band light therapy is much safer but extremely intense on the skin. It consists of stepping into an upright tanning bed wearing nothing but your birthday suit, and hanging out for 30-90 seconds, three times a week. And even after such a short amount of time in the bed, I always walk away sunburnt.

Unlike some treatments, which are often very quick and very medical, light therapy always made me feel anxious and vulnerable. It’s not a simple medical transaction such as having your blood drawn or taking an X-ray. The only way I have been able to explain to people what light therapy is like for me is by comparing it to something most of us are very familiar with: a first date.

Nurses [Dates] Are Never On Time

No matter how many dates I’ve gone on, and no matter how many UVB appointments I’ve had, I’m always the first one there. I check in, find a seat, look at the clock, and find a cute Instagram puppy video to watch to pass the time. You would think I would learn my lesson, show up later or wait in my car. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask for our dates (and nurses) to show up on time. 7 o’clock is 7 o’clock, amrite?

Another Day, Another Nurse [Date]

You have to go through a lot of UVB treatments to find the right nurse. Over a year ago, I had a good thing going with my nurse, Nikki. We saw each other three times a week, talked about our families, weekend plans, and work week woes. It was always just so easy. But then it ended.

Now, I meet up with a new nurse every other day, and while it’s all exciting and new, I miss those sweet, comforting talks with Nikki. We run into each other now and then in the office and reminisce about old times. She’s found a new regular patient. I’m enjoying my new freedom, playing the medical field. I wish her nothing but the best.

Mastering Small Talk

No matter how many new people you meet, whether it’s in a doctor’s office or out for drinks, the script remains the same. You don’t get anywhere without crossing the river of Small Talk first. You know the drill:

“Wow, the weather’s been [insert descriptor here] lately.”

“How’s your week going so far? Any big weekend plans?”

“What do you like to do for fun when you’re not working?”

“What’s your family like? Do they have a history of diabetes?”

(Okay, the last part may be applicable only to doctors offices, but you get the point.)

After a dozen or more of these interactions, you’re a certified Small Talk Seasoned Professional.

They Always Want to Get Me Out of My Clothes

First dates are a crapshoot. You could wake up next to your date the next morning with a mild hangover and a missing clothing item, or you could end up at home the same night eating Ben and Jerry’s Tonight Dough ice cream looking at dog adoption websites and planning for spinsterhood.

Somehow, my myriad of nurses have all been able to get me naked, lotion me up, have their way with me, and send me on my way while both of us are completely sober…

Always Use Protection

I’m not here to tell anyone how they should or shouldn’t behave on a first date/UVB appointment. I’m only here to say this: use protection. One situation might call for a condom, IUD, or birth control. Another might require medical-grade CeraVe lotion, green-tinted swimming goggles, and a paper hood to cover your face. Mix and match however you see fit.

The Awkward Goodbye

The moment of truth: the goodbyes. Will you go home together? Kiss and walk separate ways? Schedule a follow up for two days later with the receptionist and hope for the best? I mean, how do you say goodbye to someone who you don’t know if you’ll ever see again?

My best answer? “It was nice meeting you. We should do this again sometime.”

It’s the perfect combination of gracious and vague. Can’t go wrong.

Anyone living with an AD knows how frustrating and, at times, infuriating it can be. For me, talking about it and making light of it helps keep me sane, and hopefully brings you a little joy and understanding at the same time.

Thanks for stopping by. We should do this again soon 😉

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I was fired from my first job, and I’m grateful for it.

Embracing failure doesn’t come naturally, but it should. We are raised to believe that we will fail, in fact, that we can learn from our failures and grow. Yet, more often than not, we quietly pack away our failures into cardboard boxes and hide them away in the dark corners of our closet. They live alongside our middle-school Abercrombie collared polos, jelly wrist bracelets, butterfly clips, and all manner of mementos we’d rather keep in the past.

And just like we all had poor fashion taste as junior highers in the early 2000s, we’ve all failed. Unfortunately, being let go from a job doesn’t make as funny a meme or tweet as #TBT fashion.

I wish I could erase my 8th grade Facebook posts and photo albums, just like I wish I could go on ignoring that I was fired from my first job out of college. But I can’t. More importantly, I don’t want to. Both represent a time and place in my life, and without that starting point, it would be impossible to see how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown.

Writing this is hard. Three years later I still feel ashamed, embarrassed and disappointed about being fired. But I know I’m not the only one who’s lost a job or failed, and there’s a comfort in that knowledge. If we are to take to heart the message of learning from our mistakes and growing from our failures, then this is where we start; by owning our failures and bettering ourselves, not in spite of them, but because of them.

My First Real Failure

My first big girl job out of college was working for a new, small digital marketing firm. I was first hired on as a blogger, with the intention of learning more about the new and evolving world of digital marketing as time went on. It was everything I had wanted and more; a cool office space, a young staff, flexible work hours, etc. Yet, it was nothing like I imagined.

As it is with many young companies, there are growing pains. I was hired on with four other women, all fresh out of college, and the company was rapidly expanding. With that comes reorganization of teams, redistribution of responsibilities, etc. My job description and expectations, as well as the rest of the team members, were in constant fluctuation with little to no training or organized communication.

I’m aware of how this sounds; like I am making excuses for my failure and passing blame. But I didn’t fail because I didn’t try or because I am inherently lazy. Like most things in life, it is much more complicated than that. To put it simply, I wasn’t a good fit for the company, and the company wasn’t a good fit for me. After only six months, I was unhappy, constantly anxious, on edge and full of self-doubt. I wasn’t happy or excited about my work, and I felt guilty. From the outside looking in, it was everything I hoped for when looking to start a career. I didn’t feel connected to my job, my coworkers or the company. That didn’t make losing it all any easier.

In June of 2015, I was politely asked to resign, saving me the trouble of having to put down on future applications that I had been fired. I left with two weeks of pay and a handful of good recommendations from my former bosses. Looking back, it was amicable and done with no malice. It was the right choice for the company and for me, although I didn’t see it that way at the time.

The Aftermath

One of the hardest parts of being fired is having to admit it not only to yourself but your family and friends. I had a great support system who let me be sad and disappointed, but not self-defeating. After two days, I did what any recently unemployed woman would; I started waitressing.

Losing what I thought was my dream job crushed my confidence. I truly believed no one would hire me in the same field of work again. I started waitressing and bartending to pay rent, then began doing freelance work writing blogs and managing social media accounts to rebuild my confidence. It was six months of double shifts during football season and weekends working on my computer in Starbucks and Caribou Coffees before I felt ready to apply for full-time jobs again.

After those six months, I began applying for jobs in the field again, even landing a few interviews, but was never received a job offer. In late January of 2016, the company I was freelancing for struck a partnership with a company in Des Moines also looking for a freelance writer and social media manager. After meeting with this new company, I didn’t get the freelance gig, but a full-time position with flexibility to continue freelancing on the side! They had two employees leaving for new jobs, so I took on the new combined role of Marketing, Communications, and Social Media Coordinator.

My two year anniversary is in February.

I Was Fired, and I Have a Good Job to Show for it

I have been told that everything happens for a reason. I am where I am today because of one reason: I wasn’t good at my first job, and that’s okay. After losing my job, and with no luck applying to similar positions, I was going to move back to my hometown, live with my parents, work at the family bowling alley. Basically, the opposite of the life I had imagined for myself.

But I got lucky with my current job offer. I was at the right place, at the right time. While a stroke of luck got me to the starting line, I’m still in the race because I’ve put in the work. I used to believe that losing my first job meant I was a bad person, poor employee and undeserving of a career. It took a long time for me to realize that failing at one job didn’t mean I was doomed to fail at every job. I can say with confidence that I am good at my job, that I enjoy my job, and that I continue to grow and learn in this job as the years go on.

I was fired, and I have a good job to show for it. Finding a silver lining can take time. Hell, it took me over a year. But it’s not the amount of time it takes, rather that you keep looking until you find it.

 

Living in a Red State with a Blue State of Mind

A Swing State Coming of Age Story

My childhood and coming of age story isn’t what I would call normal in comparison to my peers. My mother raised me to be a good, Presbyterian Christian. My father raised me to be a skeptical atheist. My parents, married now for 30 years, could be deemed an example of opposites attract or two sides of the same coin. Except they aren’t so much two sides of the same coin as completely separate currencies.

While my parents don’t necessarily align with one political party over another, their differing views gave me insight into both more conservative and more liberal thought processes. Not only was I physically living in a swing state, but I was raised with a swing state sort of mind. When I was in high school, my politics swayed more towards moderate conservative. I attempted to ride the line between conservative and liberal to blend in with my peers and family.

The early years of my politics were defined by a red(ish) state of mind, but, just like any swing state, that quickly changed.

My Political Influences

Growing up in Iowa, a largely rural, conservative state, it is easy to fall in line with the political norm rather than challenge the status quo. Yet, the older I got, the more of the world I experienced, the more I listened and learned from the people around me, the easier it was for me to shape my own political opinions. I began reading articles and books, watching documentaries and even House and Senate debates. I purposefully sought out information, knowing that knowledge is power. And if I am going to have an opinion on a political issue, I want it to be as powerful as possible.

My mom often asks me how and why I became so much more politically vocal after going to college. The answer is simple: I learned to listen. I’ve been so fortunate to have met amazing friends from different states, different countries, and different walks of life. At first, I listened because I knew too little to contribute to these larger social and political conversations. When I realized how little I truly knew, I hung on their every word, desperate to know more.

You may be thinking that my opinions on politics are not my own, merely adopted views from others. We often take on traits and mannerisms of important people in our lives because we want to emulate them. Why would it be any different when it comes to politics? Do you like the Green Bay Packers because of their win/loss record and team line up, or because you grew up with parents who watched their games every week and hung memorabilia on your basement walls?

The difference here is that I didn’t get to where I am today because I refused to ask questions. I didn’t accept the fact that I should love the Green Bay Packers because the people I know do. I walked into Viking territory, was welcomed with open arms, and decided myself which team was the right fit for me.

Redefining Relationships Post-Trump

We are officially 1-year post-Trump’s inauguration, and the line between political parties continues to fracture and widen. I am lucky to live in Des Moines, a blue city in a blue county. Here, I blend in. But what do you do when people you love, people in your own family, sit across from you along the great political divide and continue to praise Trump and his actions?

There are cries on the internet of people saying Trump voters and supporters are unforgivable and unredeemable. But, I also know people who voted for Trump and regret it. Meeting and talking with these people, understanding their motives, and why they voted the way they did has led to some of the most enriching and positive conversations I’ve had since Trump announced his candidacy. Yet I know many people who voted for and still support Trump today. For a year now I have struggled with how to redefine these relationships.

Here’s what I’ve discovered:

You can love someone and dislike their politics.

When someone has been a part of your life since infancy or childhood, you can’t, and don’t want to, cut ties because of who they vote for and support. At the end of the day, we are all human, and we all need to treat each other with decency and respect. If we close ourselves off to people who see the world differently than we do, we are doing ourselves a disservice. We isolate ourselves and create a wider rift, something this political climate is striving to do.

It’s important to remember that people are not just a sum of their political beliefs.

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My Autoimmune Experience

Constant blog posts, articles, Pinterest homeopathic recipe boards, and entire books are dedicated to living with an autoimmune disease (AD). These diseases have created a cult community to rival even Crossfit, but we somehow take even more supplements than our fitness-obsessed counterparts.

Yet, if you are like me and suffer from a considerably rare AD, seeing constant posts about how bone broth and essentials oils can cure my disorder is disheartening and frustrating. I’ve struggled for four years with treatment after treatment, both homeopathic and medical, with no end in sight. There seems to be a trend online of painting ADs and AD treatments with a broad brush, when in reality that is far from the truth.

25.3 million people in the US suffer from over 80 autoimmune conditions. What works for one person won’t work for the next. For this reason, I wanted to share my autoimmune experience, from diagnosis to treatment, in hopes of showcasing and bringing to light what one life with an AD looks like.

My Diagnosis

A quick diagnostic montage: I began noticing red bumps on my skin in March of 2014. After 2 weeks with no change or improvement, I went to the doctor. It took 2 months, 2 doctors, 2 labs and a skin biopsy to get an answer. I was given the diagnosis of Lymphomatoid Papulosis (LyP) in May of 2014.

LyP affects 1.2 to 1.9 people out of a million so, scientifically speaking, I get to tout that I am in fact 1 in a million. Describing my condition is complicated, and can sound dramatic, but bear with me. The easiest way to describe it is to imagine a three-tiered cake.

LyP blog imageThe base layer is comprised of an unknown inflammatory condition. The second tier is a direct reaction to the first tier, and it is a lymphatic response to the inflammation. My body creates an excess of white blood cells to help attack and heal whatever is causing inflammation in my body. Lastly, the third tier is a result of my excess white blood cells, with no real job to do, transforming into CD-30 positive T-cells, a cancer cell found in patients with lymphomas. These cancer cells gather on my skin, creating red, inflamed spots.

LyP was classified by the World Health Organization as a cutaneous T-cell lymphoma in 2004. It appears as a malignant form of cancer under a microscope but is histologically benign.

So it’s cancer, but not like cancer cancer…

My Treatments

LyP is a relatively new condition, discovered in 1968. Therefore, there isn’t much known about it. There is no known cause and no known cure. Like most ADs, it is about managing symptoms. Yet, with so little known about it, finding a treatment that works is unique for each person. Generally, people with LyP will be able to go into a remission and stop treatment altogether. I am going on four years with no remission in sight. Because of this, I have run the gamut of LyP treatments.

TREATMENTS.pngDuring my almost four years living with this condition, I have tried more treatments than I care to count. After medication such as minocycline and doxycycline failed to make an impact, I was prescribed methotrexate, an oral chemotherapy drug used for a variety of conditions such as cancer, psoriasis, and RA. Yet, my body appeared to become immune to the starting 10mg a week dosage. I tried coupling medication with tedious light therapy sessions three times a week with no results. I’ve tried steroid creams, even steroid shots with no effect. The only solution to be found was continually raising my medication. After three and a half years, I’ve maxed out my methotrexate at 20mg a week, the highest dosage used for someone with LyP.

Living with LyP is frustrating, in large part due to the treatments. Methotrexate causes mouth sores, headaches, and nausea, and can cause serious damage to your liver and kidneys. Due to its past use as an abortifacient drug, I would be unable to carry a fetus to term while taking the medication, or even for months afterward. Not to mention the irony that while methotrexate is used to treat cancer, there is a side effect of developing lymphoma. Because of these side effects, I am required to get blood work and a pregnancy test every three months. This, coupled with light therapy, is the most common treatment for LyP.

Light therapy is, in my opinion, the most tedious and useless LyP treatment. It requires driving to a doctor’s office three times a week, stripping naked in front of a new nurse everytime, lathering up with medical grade lotion, and being shoved in a box of blue light, wearing only green goggles and a paper drape over your face while being forced to make small talk about the weather. Oh, and the actual treatment only lasts between 30-120 seconds. If I were of less sound mind, I imagine it would feel as though I were being abducted by aliens.

Why I Choose to Share My Experience

Treating an AD isn’t just about finding gluten-free recipes or immune boosting teas, although these methods work for some AD sufferers. The majority of the time, those methods are merely icing on a cake already comprised of endless doctor’s visits, blood draws, new medication, biopsies, ultrasounds and so much more. I hope by sharing my experience I can connect with fellow AD suffers and hear their stories, as well as educate those who may not know much about them.

If you are a fellow AD sufferer, I’d love to hear your story in the comments! If you have any questions for me or about my specific condition, feel free to drop them below.
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