Posts Tagged adventure

In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, P is for Packing

This is a phase for packing. Not packing a punch (except in kickboxing class), or packing a weapon (that’s not my style), but packing an overnight bag, an extra change of clothes, a lunch.

It’s a fact of our lives that we’re constantly in motion. For better or worse, our hours are spent commuting, running from place to place for work, sneaking home for some good food and a family gathering and becoming public transit pros as we journey to our friends’ scattered apartments, adult league soccer or softball games and alumni gatherings.

Our own apartments and houses aren’t so much living spaces as they are occasional home bases, holding all the things we don’t need on one particular journey, but may very well snatch up for the next. Sure, our daily travels frequently bring us home to our places, but often just for a pit stop on the blazing path to our next occasion or obligation.

All that motion might not seem like such an effort if it didn’t require so many things, so much stuff.

But it does. Staying over at the boyfriend/girlfriend/partner’s place on a Thursday night requires a change of clothes for date night if work wear won’t do the trick, something to sleep in, face wash and all the other nighttime/morning toiletries, clothes for Friday, and, if you’re cheap like me, an extra lunch to leave in the work fridge for that second day at the office.

See, we’re talking about packing. It’s a constant battle with the constraints of duffel bags and large purses, the limiting reagents of the laundry pile (socks, anyone?) and the boundaries of memory. You can’t pack it if you don’t remember you need it. And you can’t remember everything.

Going on a lakeside weekend trip with the family after a Friday at work takes just as much thought and just as many items. Pajamas for sleeping at the parents’ house, a swimsuit, towel, cover-up, sunscreen, sandals that are junky enough to actually get sandy and actual clothes to wear once the swimming’s over. Try thinking of all that on a Thursday night after a 10-hour work day, an hour-long run and two hour-long commutes, and there you have it – the everyday packing challenges of twenty-something life.

The feeling of living out of a bag can be discomforting at times, but the trade-off is simple math. Nights out with friends and early summer days with family are far greater than the annoyance of constantly packing and unpacking – even though it requires us to fight the subconscious urge to forget the very items we need the most.

These twenty-something years are spent in motion, and like it or not, gathering the necessary goods and packing them all up is part of what it takes to stay on track.

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In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, O is for Outdoors

Over the weekend, my Prius and I took advantage of a preferred parking spot for fuel-efficient vehicles at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle. Not because I’m lazy or because I think driving a hybrid makes me special — there’s a great South Park episode to prove otherwise — but just because it’s darn cold.

The outdoors this season are a frozen tundra of chilly annoyance, icy driving hazards and poorly timed snowstorms, and I want to avoid all that as much as possible. Avoiding the outdoors, though, is not my style the rest of the year. I love being outside.

I’ll run, bike, walk, read, write, eat or even nap outside if I’m not going boating, water skiing, tubing, kayaking, Frisbee golfing or stand-up paddling, unless I’m playing basketball, tennis or soccer. Being outdoors and experiencing nature makes life better, they say, and I’m a big believer… Three-quarters of the year.

The problem with winter is it steals the outdoors from our easy enjoyment. Sure there’s snowshoeing and sledding and cross-country skiing, winter running at Santa 5Ks and hiking while bundled like an eskimo. But all of that requires the extra effort of dressing properly for the cold.

Around the holidays, there’s plenty of darkness and time to drive around checking out Christmas lights, but that’s not really being outdoors. There’s walking to the car from the office or the gym or the grocery store or your favorite sports bar or your best friend’s place, but that doesn’t leave any time to enjoy being outside — just long enough to stare at parking lot pavement and wish upon a snowflake for spring.

The problem with winter, for those of us who have mostly outdoor hobbies, is it leaves us with very little to do when the temperature makes it impossible, unbearable or at least unpleasant to be outside for more than 5 minutes. And I’m definitely one of those people who has mostly outdoor hobbies, like my long list earlier proves.

I can read and write and eat inside, thankfully. I can run inside on treadmills, but the silly machines annoy me more and more every year. I can bike inside, too, on those stationary bikes where all I really do is move my legs up and down a little bit and read fitness magazines. I could play basketball inside … if I went to a fancier gym or drove 15 miles to a rec center with open gym hours and battled teenagers for court space. But what’s the point of all that?

The point is winter sucks when most of your enjoyment comes from being outside. Not always from being outside on its own, but from being outside AND, as in being outside and biking, or being outside and reading, or being outside and simply exploring the surroundings. That’s pretty tough to do when the mercury reads “you’re an idiot to be out here!”

There are plenty of reasons to complain when it’s cold  — constant goosebumps and shivers being the least of them — so I’m really not trying to add to the complainers’ chorus. I’m just trying to talk up the benefits of being outdoors, of hearing sounds that aren’t human-made, of discovering scenes off the beaten path, of learning and observing and watching the seasons change.

Let’s just hope this dreary season of minimal outdoor enjoyment changes soon to a spring of flowers and sunnier days and warmth.

Until then, I’ll be on the hunt for a new indoor hobby … Jigsaw puzzles, anyone?

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A twenty-something take on time

There’s never enough of it. It keeps ticking away. It’s on our phones since hardly any of us have watches. Scheduling it and using it wisely can be a battle. And as the saying goes, it’s money.

It’s time.

Time to eat. Time to think. “It’s about time.” Not enough time. The gift of time. Time, time, time.

At this phase of our lives, time – even entire years – seems to pass so much more quickly than it did when we were younger. Especially when it comes to weekends, time now truly feels like it’s worth the high premium our society places on it.

Time passes faster now than it did in when we were in high school, when class periods all ended at odd times that had us eagerly anticipating moments like 9:32 a.m., 12:17 p.m. or, better yet, 2:50 p.m. And it passes faster now than it did during high school summers, when many of us were working lame jobs that often left us bored out of or minds. Time flies by faster than it did in college when an extra break always could be found for an hour of Frisbee on the Quad or a free cookout at the football field or a long walk to the dorm that had the Mexican food special.

Time seems to pass faster all the time, especially as we advance toward 30 and continue coming to terms with our own inevitable adulthood. And we’re beginning to actually heed the warnings from 30-somethings and older coworkers and parents that as our lives go on, time will just keep passing faster and faster and faster. And that’s intimidating.

So what are we to do about it, this conundrum of the ever-speeding passing of time?

We should spend a little of it reflecting, especially at the end of the year; a little of it cleaning and organizing and planning and scheming. A bunch of it working, and more of it striving to find our life’s work – if our job isn’t it. A lot of it with friends and even more with family. A good amount exercising, seeing the world and expanding our horizons, and enough of it relaxing. A solid chunk eating and exploring, praying and giving, sharing and passing along what we’ve learned.

We should spend as little time as possible driving, stressing, worrying and waiting. We need to carve out as much time as we can for sleeping, but most importantly, we need to spend the minutes and hours and days that add up to our lifetimes dreaming and doing and being. Because no matter how fast it goes, we’ve all got time for that. Here’s to a year well-spent as we celebrate the passage of time.

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In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, N is for Nature

I’m sitting in my apartment looking at my favorite cactus, some weird mini tree-like plant thing my roommate just bought and barren tree branches outside. It’s November in Chicago, when winter is right around the corner, and I wish I was somewhere else.

California, along the ocean, maybe. Or even Wisconsin boating on a lake would do. I just want to be in nature, and the suburbs in pre-winter don’t feel very natural right now.

Even for those of us who can’t tell corn from soy bean plants or would never be caught dead eating a Nature Valley bar in a forest, the underlying message of wilderness therapy can come in handy.

When we’re stressed, overwhelmed, unsure or otherwise unhappy, being outside can center us, calm us and bring our racing thoughts back to reason. All it takes is some water, a path, trees, a park, a field, or whatever natural area is within reach in your microcosm of the world.

The lakefront bike path, Lincoln Park Zoo, even a pocket park with nothing but a couple of trees and some playground equipment or Busse Woods forest preserve with its view of Woodfield mall all count as nature around here.

But water, usually lakes, is my natural setting of choice when I’m stressed. The sounds of waves lapping and wind whipping have a mysterious way of combining with the sight of sparkling blue-green water and landscaped shores to wipe away my worries, tears and fears.

Some might choose a forest or a canyon as their favorite outdoor site. Others may favor an urban river, a wetland, a prairie or even a remote desert. But the principle remains the same: Get outdoors, find peace in nature and lose your problems to the power of pleasant sights. … Before winter really sets in.

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What to do when money can’t buy everything

Vacations aren’t supposed to be for learning. They’re for relaxing, getting away, sightseeing, exploring, sleeping, tasting and de-stressing. But if a little learning sneaks its way in, I’m one to see it as a bonus.

On a recent trip to Minneapolis, I learned something about money. I didn’t visit a Federal Reserve branch or a U.S. mint, but I gained some insight about money all the same, specifically about how I want to spend mine.

I remember once hearing this line “Spend your money on experiences, not on things.” But American consumer culture tells us all we always need more stuff. No matter what it is, we need it. So that part about paying to do things instead of just paying to buy things stayed in my mind only as a line I once heard and found intriguing.

Until I saw that mode of spending in action in Minneapolis. I lived it and I loved it, and I saw others who seemed to enjoy it, too.

It was a tale of two scenes, really. The first was the mall. The big mall. The Mall of America mall. It seemed pretty impressive at first. Four floors of stores, five Caribou Coffees, a theme park in the middle and a physical location of a shop I’d only seen online and in catalog form.

And then it got lame. It actually didn’t seem to have a good sandwich shop like Jersey Mike’s or Jimmy John’s and it had too much “mall smell,” an odd blend of all the perfume and cologne from Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie and all the greasy food from the likes of Chipotle and Burger King, recycled over and over through the cooling system. I bought a breathable hat to wear while running and some old baseball cards for my dad. There wasn’t really anything else I wanted because I wasn’t about to bore my boyfriend with the slow process of shopping for clothes.

And that was the first scene. Money spent: $18 on the hat, $2 on the old baseball cards and $13 on a mediocre lunch for two.

On to scene two, which luckily lasted much more of the trip. This scene was the active one, a downtown hub of urban recreation where we biked, walked, kayaked, chugged along on a pedal boat and even swam a bit. I couldn’t get enough pleasant views of the city and people enjoying it by running, walking, roller blading and just being outside. People were sipping beers on patios overlooking the Mississippi River, licking ice cream cones on streetscape benches, lounging on blankets watching a movie in the park – ahhh, it was paradise. And much more so than I expected.

I won’t bother to total all the money I spent on my half of a biking tour, a kayaking tour, ice cream, food and pedalboat rental because that’d be too much math. But I know the cost was well worth it. Because those active experiences were the reasons I enjoyed the trip. They were the fun part.

Seeing how much fun it can be to spend on tours and trips and tastes and things to experience instead of just things to have was in itself an enjoyable and valuable experience.

So next time you vacation, try spending your stash on things to do instead of things to keep and letting memories be your souvenirs. Happy travels!

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On freedom, and the responsibility to control our lives

I’m a solid few years into the career world/working person phase of my twenties, but I think I’m still getting used to a lot of things about this life.

Waking up by 6 a.m. pretty much every day. Cooking for myself, or at least assembling easy things that count as meals and then reheating them. Being significantly older than the interns. Keeping the kitchen anywhere near as clean as my mom’s. Dealing with cable companies and trying not to get ripped off.

And one other thing, a big one: Freedom.

An Independence Day-themed ad for Jack Daniels I saw on the Eisenhower last year got me thinking about freedom, and while the ad is long gone, the thoughts haven’t stopped. “Freedom is a right. Independence is a choice,” the billboard said, obviously implying that truly independent people choose to drink Jack.

Well, I drink what I want, think what I want, and I’ve been independent since I could talk – or certainly since I started playing soccer with boys in fourth grade. And of course, freedom is a right – this is America, where freedom is something many of us still are fighting for. We know this.

But freedom feels different in our twenties. I can’t say I knew it would. I didn’t realize the extra weight it would bring, the thought processes it would alter, the changes it would create.

What changes freedom is the realization that we’ve truly attained it by the time we reach our twenties. In hindsight, twenty-something freedom by far trumps the “freedom” we had in our high school years and even college, but freedom isn’t just Fourth of July fireworks, apple pie at barbecues and all things Americana.

Freedom is not something to be taken lightly. It’s the knowledge that we can make our own choices, but if we’re not careful, half of them will be bad. It’s the understanding that no one else controls our lives, even when we might want them to.

For me, twenty-something freedom is the realization that I’ve achieved the career I had gotten so used to striving for. So now, instead of working toward the goal of being a journalist, I can just live my life and be a journalist. Freedom brings big questions about how I want to act in this life I’ve worked so hard to attain – how I want to balance my time, get involved, be fit and active, excel at work, have adventures, keep in touch with friends and live with no regrets.

With freedom, I’ve had to come to a better understanding of my aim in life (to tell stories and make people think), and my top priority (being loyal to the people I care about) – because there are too many distractions out there, and I’m free to fall victim to any one (or dozens) of them if I’m not careful.

Freedom also is something that has to be balanced. With responsibility and control, as I learned in my favorite high school social studies class. Freedom, responsibility, control, or FRC, was the brainchild of an eccentric veteran-turned-teacher who we all just called Mr. P, a man who introduced himself on the first day of class by scaling a student desk and declaring he didn’t need drugs because he was “high on life.”

FRC was Mr. P’s motto, a philosophy he taught throughout the year and distributed on our last day on little laminated index cards showing a triangle held in check by a scale. As applied to twenty-something life, FRC goes like this:

We have the freedom to party all night, sleep as long as we want and then call off sick, but the responsibility to support ourselves financially by controlling our bad habits and keeping our jobs.

We have the freedom to date whoever we want, but the responsibility to show decency and treat them like real human beings by controlling our selfish urges and our desire to take the easy way out.

We have the freedom to eat nothing but pizza and cookies for three days, but we have the responsibility to protect our health by controlling what we eat and making healthy choices.

We also have the freedom to screw it all up a time or two or ten as we work to understand ourselves, our priorities and our true aim in life. We have the freedom to be independent and choose the path the rest of our lives should take.

Freedom needs a guide, so it’s up to us. It’s time to take responsibility, make a roadmap and control our own destiny. Happy Independence Day!

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City dreams and suburban realities: A farewell to Chicago

Growing up in the suburbs, going to the city was always a big deal.

It was a twice-a-year occasion at best – once in the summer to go to the beach or the Taste of Chicago, and once in the winter for something holiday-related or a Bulls game.

The city was so close, yet so far, so I often would dream of someday living there.

I’d gaze out the window as my Dad would merge from the Edens to the Kennedy and traffic would inevitably slow, looking down long streets of three-flats and rowhouses, dreaming of going on rambling runs to explore these neat-looking neighborhoods that actually had something my Mom would call character, something sorely missing from the sameness of our mid-1980s subdivision.

With how little I saw of the city growing up, each small step in my ability to explore it on my own seemed monumental.

Taking the Metra downtown with a friend, I’d draw myself a detailed walking map from Ogilvie to wherever I was going, adding a handmade grid of downtown streets in case we got off-track.

Taking the Metra alone required an even more carefully drawn map and a handwritten list of train times to make sure I’d get home OK, not to mention a note to self to pack change for the meters at the suburban station’s parking lot.

Taking the CTA with friends who knew the city better, I made the mistake of not paying attention. So when it came time to take it on my own, I nervously consulted my list of how many stops I’d stay on the train and how many blocks I’d walk after getting off. Transferring worried me, as did the possibility of choosing the correct line at the right stop, but boarding a train in the wrong direction. Thankfully, I never made that mistake, but one time, where the “El” is actually a subway, I stepped up to ground level and walked three wrong directions before trial and error pointed me the way I actually was trying to go.

And now I’ve lived here for two years.

And now I’m ready to move out, back to the suburbs, although not exactly back to where I came from.

I’ve learned two main things from my experiment with urban living.

I’m sure the first one’s not true for everyone, but it is for me: You can take the girl out of the suburbs, but you can’t take the suburbs out of the girl.

Basically, living in the city – and seeing the pros and cons of it in a real way, not in an idealized view from twice-yearly visits – has made me realize I’m a suburban person. The suburbs, and their nice mix of proximity to something bigger and convenience of sprawling parking lots and two-way streets, are not only where I’m from – they’re where I belong.

In the city, I can barely run two blocks without crossing some busy street and inevitably hitting a red light. I have to circle the same three or four streets every day for parking, avoid tall curbs, stop short of bumping parked motorcycles, and read every street sign I see – since the one I fail to spot will be the one telling me I’m about to owe $50 in a street sweeping ticket or risk getting towed.

In the city, there are too many good restaurants to count, too many fun neighborhoods to visit and too many new bars to try – but in my life, there is too little time to fit it all in. I’m constantly … guess where? … in the suburbs, working or seeing friends and family. And there’s another problem: I wanted city living to be like College Take 2, but I lack that close group of friends or the time to find a new one. Most of my college and high school friends have scattered across the country and I admire them for chasing their dreams in faraway places. But they left me, supposedly doing the twenty-something thing in the city, with few friends to join in my exploration.

I belong in the suburbs.

Despite that strange realization from two years here in the city, I don’t regret my time in Ukrainian Village. And that’s the second thing I’ve learned.

Childhood dreams might not play out the way you expected them to, but they’re still worth pursuing.

Living in the city was always a bit of a dream of mine, something that seemed like it’d be awesome to do if I ever had the chance, yet not something that would make me completely unhappy if I never was able to try. So when I had enough money to move out and realized rent would be cheaper and finding a roommate would be easier in the city than out in the ‘burbs, I knew the time was right. The opportunity was there, believe it or not, so chasing this childhood desire was worth a try.

The city part of my twenty-something journey is ending soon, and honestly, it’s about time. I can no longer stand the commute and I’m excited to gain more time in my life by spending a whole lot less of it in the car.

But those rambling runs down city streets I used to dream of? I’ve done dozens of them. And those bars and restaurants that looked too cool not to try? I’ve planned carefully, carving out time when faraway friends have visited, and I’ve tried a solid handful of them, too.

I’ve lived in the city. I’ve gotten mail with my name on it addressed to somewhere in “Chicago.” I’ve satisfied my curiosity. And now it’s time to make myself a new home.

Best of luck as you continue your twenty-something journey in the city, the suburbs, or wherever in the world you may be.

I've lived the Chicago live; seen the skyline, ran the streets and tried the food. Now it's time to return to the 'burbs -- where I belong.

I’ve lived the Chicago life; seen the skyline, ran the streets and tried the food. Now it’s time to return to the ‘burbs — where I belong.

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