Embracing the fire within through grace and spazziness

I tie the hip scarf around my waist knotting it tightly on one side letting the beads jingle on my left hip and the fringe sway on my right. I take my place in the center of fifteen nervous women all dreading their turn at being the object of scrutiny and judgment. The music thumps through the studio and I feel it beat even louder in my chest. I close my eyes and begin.

Explore

Lately, I've been on an exploration of dance. I've tried several kinds--Hip Hop, Buti, and now Belly Dancing. I've learned something from each of them, whether it was reaffirming what I already knew--that Hip Hop is too herky-jerky for me, or discovering something new that I love like Belly Dancing. 

I love to dance, but I struggled to find the kind of dance class that felt like me. I like dance that is very fluid, but also has periods of what I call spazziness, and belly dancing is exactly that. It's all about flow and graceful movements, but there are also moments of erratic shimmying that allow me to let loose and embrace the chaos. I am learning a lot about belly dancing in this class, but more importantly I'm learning a lot about myself. 

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In the past, my desire to learn new things mostly encompassed what I could find in a book. I wasn't interested in going out and doing the things I was reading about; I was perfectly happy knowing "enough." Then one day that all changed.

I suddenly wanted to take an Impressionist painting class to better understand and appreciate my favorite style of art. I wanted to see if I could really do some good by volunteering at my local animal shelter. I wanted to test my fear of the ocean by kayaking across Casco Bay. I wanted to prove that I could hike a mountain all by myself. Finally the fire within me was lit, and every day it burns a little brighter.

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I sign up for any class/seminar/workshop that I have an interest in, even the ones I'm pretty sure I won't love. Why? Why not.

We spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about being bad at something or someone judging us, when in reality we are our toughest critics. Take a look in the giant, wall-length mirror at any dance/spin/yoga class and look around. Everyone there is looking at themselves worrying they're not doing it right, and willing themselves to do better. No one is watching you, let alone rooting for you to fail. It took me an exceptionally long time to realize that, but once I did I embraced the freedom. I could try anything I wanted and no one would care whether or not I was doing it right.

You have to change your idea of what you hope to get out of it. Do you want to spend all of your time obsessing over doing it right, or would you rather let loose and have fun?

When the heart is pulled in three different directions: A fight between the past, present, and future

I'm standing in the Portland airport after just getting back from visiting my boyfriend in Tucson. I don't miss the desert heat, but I do miss him. I sigh, grab my bags, and make my way through the terminal. I walk through my little airport smiling at the familiar signs for "wicked" Maine lobster, the Portland Head Light, and other Maine icons. I send a text to my dad in Chicago letting him know that I made it back safely. Never have I ever felt such a strong pull to be in three different places at once. 

Wolfe's Neck, Maine

When I lived in Chicago, not 30 miles away from where I grew up I felt like something was missing. My heart was pulling me to Maine in a big, determined way that would not be ignored. I felt rooted to stay in the place I had always been, but I felt the pull to be in this new, exciting place as well. 

Now that I'm here in Maine I still feel the pull but in a different way. I feel the pull to Chicago because my family is there along with everything that has come to signify home to me. It's not the same yearning I felt for Maine, but rather like a dull ache that has become a second pulse gently throbbing below the surface.

Millennium Park, the bean 

My heart stretches yet another 1,000 miles away to Arizona where my boyfriend is currently getting his Master's degree. We visit as often as we can, but seeing each other every 3-4 months is far from ideal. I stand in my little airport and simultaneously wish to be in the places that are my past, present, and future. 

Tucson Mountains, Arizona

We like to think that we can have it all--that once we find that perfect place, everything else will fall in line, and in a lot of ways that can be true. It wasn't until my car was packed and I was halfway to Maine that I got the phone call for a job. I was here three weeks before I finally found an apartment. Things like that do line up once you prove to the universe that you're serious about your decision.

What people don't tell you is that even after all those pieces fall into place and you feel like the universe is finally on your side, you're never completely settled. I held onto my Midwestern roots when I moved to Maine like it was a lifeline. I embraced my Chicago accent despite endless teasing. I held firm in my belief that deep-dish is the best kind of pizza. I'd complain about Chicago but would pounce on anyone who spoke ill of my noisy, chaotic city.

Chicago, IL

Though my boyfriend and I don't know where we will end up next year yet, I feel the pull to be with him as well. It will be a new thing for us--living together in the same state at the same time, but one that we're both eager to try. 

Mount Lemmon, Arizona

Usually, when I get back to Maine I am so happy to be back. I breathe in the salty, sea air while the seagulls caw overhead. I wander the streets of my beautiful, old city with a renewed sense of awe over this place I decided to call home. This time was different.

I still love my city, but there has been a very subtle shift ever since I got back. I know my days in Maine are numbered and for the first time since crossing the Piscataqua River bridge that first time last spring, I'm okay with it. Portland is still the place I feel the most at peace, the most balanced, but I'm also anxious to see where my next adventure takes me. It's a tricky balance between the three places my heart wants to be, but thankfully it is never dull. 

Have you ever felt the pull to be in multiple places at once? How do you find balance between your past, present and future?

What aerial yoga has taught me: A worry wart's journey to letting go

It'd be nice if life came in the form of a book where we can skip ahead to the last page and be reassured that everything is going to work out okay, or like a movie where we can fast-forward through all of the highs and lows life has to offer and watch that legendary last scene, but it doesn't and frankly I'm glad.

How boring would life be if that were the case? Would we even have the courage to try new things knowing that it would all work out okay no matter what? 

As a basic rule for myself while living in Maine, I try to do one new thing a week. Last week I tried aerial yoga. For those of you who may not know, aerial yoga takes place in/with a silk hammock. It hangs loosely from the ceiling like a sling, and when stretched out it creates a hammock. 

Aerial yoga

Ten minutes into the aerial workshop, the instructor told us to flip backward and trust the fabric. The goal was to do an inversion that looked like a frog hanging upside down. I have to admit, I was nervous. Even though she assured us that the hammocks could hold up to 1,000 lbs and that it was a low-impact maneuver, I still had a hard time falling into the unknown not knowing if I was literally going to fall on my face or not.

I had a choice. I could either refuse to do it and thus waste the whole experience, or just lean back and trust that I would land on my feet, or my hands in this case. I took a deep breath and flipped myself over. 

Life is full of trust exercises both big and small. Sometimes we have someone there ready to catch us if we fall, and other times we have no one to fall back on but ourselves. I wasn't ready to flip myself over. I would've preferred more time getting used to the hammock, but I didn't have that option. I had to trust that I was going to be okay no matter what. 

The moment right before I try something new is my favorite. My heart races, my palms sweat, and the butterflies whirl around frantically in my stomach. I know that this can end in one of two ways, but suddenly calm washes over me because I'm truly okay with whatever happens. I smile and take the leap.

Aerial yoga

Once I successfully flipped over in my hammock, I was addicted.  I flipped as many times as I could, and I went back the next week for more. Before the second class even started I slid into my hammock and flipped back instantly trusting the fabric, but also trusting myself. 

I have tried a lot of new things since I moved to Maine--things I never thought I could do, and afterwards I'm always happy I did it. Not every experience is a success; some have been rather disappointing, but it always teaches me something new about myself. I've learned that most of my fears are illogical. They're my preconceived notions of what I think I can do. Each new thing I try begs the question, "Can I really not do this, or do I just think I can't?" More often than not it's the latter.

Trying new things doesn't come naturally to some; it certainly didn't come naturally to me, but the more times I did it the easier it became. With practice I got to the point where I don't hesitate to sign up for a dance class, a moose safari, or even an aerial yoga class.

How do you handle new experiences? Do you embrace the new or are you more hesitant? How do you convince yourself to take the leap?

Anxiety: How I've learned to coexist with the beast.

When I was 8-years-old I gave my parents quite a scare. I was having chest pains that felt more akin to a snake wrapping itself around my chest and back squeezing me tighter and tighter. My breath quickened, my palms started to sweat, and my vision became blurry. Not knowing what was happening my dad called 9-1-1 and an ambulance rushed me to the hospital. After a battery of tests on my heart and various other organs, they determined that I had had an anxiety attack. And thus began my life-long battle with anxiety.

The dawn of anxiety

Anxiety has been a good friend to me. It's always been there for me, came around at inopportune times, played mind games with me, teased me with an early dismissal only to come back later stronger and meaner than before. Come to think of it, my anxiety has been more like a rude houseguest than a friend. 

During my teen years, my anxiety became that rude guest that would never leave. Therapy and medication were only a band-aid, they all told me. I would have to manage it this way for the rest of my life. 

Nothing elicits the "wanna bet?" response faster in me than someone telling me how my life is going to be and that there are no other solutions. That day I quit therapy, threw away my meds, and haven't touched either one since. 

Medication and therapy work for a lot of people; they just don't work for me. My faith was never in either of them; my faith has always been in me, and through that I was able to find another way.

Calm ocean

I got better at determining what causes the anxiety and how to prevent it from escalating to the full-blown, 10-hour, panic attacks my nutty subconscious likes to throw at me every now and again. For me it's about being brutally honest with myself because some of the things that give me anxiety annoy me.

"This shouldn't give me a panic attack so I'll just pretend it's not happening."

No matter how "dumb" I think the reason is, the truth is that it really does bother me, and it's still a struggle for me to accept that. I have to acknowledge it, accept it, and then work through it. Anxiety doesn't allow for any shortcuts. It's stronger and smarter. It may go away for a little while, fooling me into a false sense of security and grand mastery, only for it come knocking again later in the biggest, most obnoxious way possible. 

I don't always immediately know why I'm having a panic attack. How could I? Panic attacks manifest because there's something below the surface that I'm not dealing with--something I've shoved aside for later (or never). I use the analogy that anxiety is like a boiling pot of water. It will keep rumbling up near the top until finally it erupts and spills over. My anxiety, being the great friend that it is, gives me several opportunities to be dealt with before an attack, begging to handled in a more civilized way, but I usually ignore it. I always think I can beat the system--that by ignoring it I'm making it relinquish its power, but that just seems to make it angry. It's Me 2.0; it knows all my tricks. The best course of action is to work through it, and ignore the fact that it feels like I'm trying to breathe underwater. 

Maine sunrise

Despite all of this I do feel like I have a leg up on my anxiety, though it's still a part of me. It no longer sends me to the hospital after multi-hour attacks, but it'll still creep in and ruin an evening here and there. Day to day I've learned that the best way to keep panic attacks at bay is to check in with myself. 

"Is there something going on in the dark underbelly of my subconscious? How can I deal with it in a healthy way?"

Depending on the day I can make those crushing attacks recede by doing yoga, going for a long walk, writing, or doing deep breathing exercises. It's not a perfect science, but I'm figuring it out.

How do you deal with anxiety? Is it easy for you to recognize the signs that something isn't right? How do you take care of yourself? 

The key to maintaining a long-distance relationship

Many people ask me how I make my long-distance relationship work. They look to me as if I'm Yoda and I have all of this Jedi wisdom for being in a relationship with the same person for a decade and eight of those years have been long-distance. I tell them that it just works, but in all honesty, it boils down to one fundamental quality we both share.

My boyfriend and I have been together more or less since high school. We've been through many growing pains over the years, but the one big thing we have in common is the desire to better ourselves. We constantly seek ways to learn more, engage more, and be more. We share the articles we read, the podcasts we listen to, and the things we hear with each other in an attempt to not only better ourselves, but to better each other as well. We are growing together even though there are miles and miles between us. In my opinion, this is the single most important reason why our relationship works. We both want to grow and have given each other the room to do so.

Not to say that long-distance relationships are easy. Far from it. It's gut-wrenching to say goodbye knowing that it'll be another two-four months before we say hello again. It's also hard to fully enjoy our time together because we know we have to say goodbye yet again in a few days. Add in a couple of time zones and it can be very difficult to stay connected.

Another thing that has the potential to throw a monkey-wrench in our relationship is the fact that we're both doing completely different things right now. He is living in Arizona working through his master's program, while I am living in Maine working a regular 9-5 job and exploring the East coast in my free time. His days are structured and focused, mine are full of fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants adventures. Our lives couldn't be more different right now, but we're both making ourselves better. The structure may be different, but we're still learning all the same.

There are a lot of reasons why this relationship "shouldn't" work, but it does. It works because we're both doing our own things. It wasn't always this way though. There was a time when he was going off on adventures, while I was still bumming around in our hometown trying to figure out what I wanted. It was painful to see him go off and leave me behind.  I had nothing to get excited about, nothing to focus on other than his absence.  

Grand Canyon, Arizona

Then I fell in love with Maine and decided to have my own adventure. I still miss him, of course, but now that I'm doing my own thing I'm no longer sitting around waiting for my adventure to begin. It's here now. I'm living it every day. 

I wouldn't be the person I am today without his constant support. He has always been in my corner cheering me on with anything I've ever wanted to do. On the verge of gushing, I'll just say that he's a great guy and I'm very happy he's in my life. 

We do have plans to close the loop on our eight years of long-distance by next summer. We're not sure where our next adventure will take us, it depends on which graduate school he gets into, but I know we're going to have a blast getting there.

Living the solo adventure life

I'm at one of my favorite spots in Maine. I am sitting on the edge of the rugged coast with the Portland Head Light to my right and the ocean directly in front of me. The tide will be coming in soon, but for now, the waves lightly sway against the shore. In a little while, the rock I'm sitting on will be completely enveloped by the water, but I have time. For now, it's just me, my lighthouse, and the ocean.

Lighthouse

The solo adventure life is full of days like this. The weekends especially are my time to go out, explore, and experience something new. Sometimes I'll visit a new lighthouse (or 3), try kayaking for the first time, hike the rocky trails along the coast, see the sunrise at the Easternmost part of the U.S., or go on a Moose Safari. Did I mention that I've done all of these things within the last two weeks? 

Kayak

If you had told me five years ago that I would be living this life, I wouldn't have believed it. There are times that I still can't. Sometimes I wake up before dawn on a Saturday because I'm just so excited for the adventure I have planned that day and I think, "Who am I? Where did this come from?" 

I wasn't always this adventurous; in fact, this is a pretty new thing for me. Since moving to Maine last year I've done more things and put myself out there in more ways than I ever imagined I could.

I no longer hesitate to try a new dance class because I fear I have no rhythm. I don't care if people think it's odd that I'm at a concert by myself. I don't mind raising my hand when asked if there's anyone here who hasn't tried this before. Basically I'm no longer embarrassed to be myself. 

There is no greater peace I feel than when I'm at my favorite lighthouse, wandering the streets of my beautiful gritty city, or standing atop a challenging mountain. I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and the world becomes quiet. I commit it to memory and vow to always seek out the moments that make me feel inspired and fulfilled. For it's these moments that allow me to live this adventurous life.

Mountains

It's also in these moments that I find the strength to be out here all on my own. It's not always easy being so far away from my friends and family, but it's through these moments of peace that I feel empowered and confident that I can handle anything. I know that my life won't always be like this. My world will change again next year, but for now, this is exactly where I want to be. 

What makes you feel inspired? Where do your moments of peace and clarity take place?

To new adventures!

Hi there! Welcome to my blog! I'm Stephanie: writer, animal lover, outdoor enthusiast, and aspiring yogi. 

Wanderlust

I moved from Chicago, IL to Portland, ME in the spring of 2016, and it's been an adventure ever since. I've learned more about myself than I ever imagined possible. I have experienced the debilitating effects of grief, and the renewed strength that comes afterward. I have pushed myself to do the things I'm scared of and have learned that it always, always pays off. I strive to become a better version of myself each and every day. 

Explore to create

I am a voracious reader. I read between 80-100 books a year so I may post the occasional book review for the books that either have a profound influence on me or that I just deem worthy of mention.

I am a big animal lover and believe that all animals should be in good, loving homes. I volunteer at my local animal shelter, Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland. I also support two other life-savings organizations, the ASPCA and Best Friends Animal Society all of which can be found on my Causes page. 

You might read this and think, "Wow, this woman is so put-together!" WRONG!

I am clumsy, awkward, and have been told that I do too many voices.  I have periods of laziness which include sitting around in my apartment binging something on Netflix. I can also be stubborn and very strong-willed when it comes to my beliefs in women's rights, animal rights, or living a life of one's own.

Wanderings

I like to think of myself as a minimalist. After moving in and out of 5 apartments in 5 years you kind of have to be. For a while, my apartments kept getting bigger and bigger: 730, 850, 1,100 sq ft. Since moving to Maine they've gotten smaller and smaller: 500 sq ft, and 300 sq ft. Yes, you read that correctly: I currently live in 300 sq ft and I love it!

Next year I will be moving somewhere else; I just don't know where yet. For the moment the somewhat nomadic lifestyle works for me. 

Lupine love

I am a believer in all things in moderation and living a life that suits you. I don't care for limits or people telling me I "can't" or "shouldn't" do something. I believe in going after the things you want even if your friends and family think it's nuts. No one ever looks back on their life and thinks, "I really wish I hadn't tried so many different things!" 

This blog is about me--my adventures, my ideas, and my opinion on issues that are near and dear to my heart. This blog is basically an extension of the deep, meaningful conversations I already have with the amazing people in my life just on a larger scale. 

Wander

I hope you enjoy reading my posts, but I also hope that you'll engage in the conversation as well. 

Happy wandering!


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