26 November 2013

I'm Taking Back My Life

There. I said it.

I don't know when it happened, but somewhere along the way I handed over the reigns to my life. It was slow; it was subtle. But it happened. The last several months have provided a lot of reflection on my life, where it's going, what I'm doing, and where and who I want to be. It's been thrilling, heart-wrenching, beautiful, frustrating, exhausting, terrifying. I'm still figuring things out. But I realized something: somewhere in the past years, and I can't even name the number, I turned into something I didn't want to be. I lost my zest.

So for the past few weeks I've looked to get back my zest. It's meant that I've had to learn to let go of who I was so that I can become what I need to be. Here's what I've done.

1. I've slowed down.

I've stopped over-scheduling myself. I've taken a lot of down time and allowed myself to have time to simply just be. It's been fantastic.

2. I've simplified.

This goes alone with slowing down. I've removed anything superfluous from my life. That has meant removing any project, person, or commitment that has caused me unneeded stress. This has been the hardest part of taking back my life. Letting things and people go is never easy for me, but it has also been probably one of the most beneficial things I've done.

And that doesn't mean that I've nixed anything I don't like. I've only pared down to the essential things that I need.

3. I've prioritized.

I've taken months to reflect on what my priorities really are and whether or not my life is currently organized in such a way that supports those priorities. This has meant that I've had to change how I allot my time. Prioritizing has made it easier for me to simplify my life and to turn down attractive offers that I otherwise would have taken were it not for these priorities being firm in my mind.

4. I've returned to the things that I love.

A few weeks ago I realized that I've become kind of boring. I'd stopped doing many of the things that I loved and that gave me a zest for life. So I've returned to some of the things I love. I've been much more involved in music, trying to become somewhat proficient at the guitar. I've returned to reading for pleasure. I've kept the people around me that lift me up and make me feel loved. I've also pared down on the amount of media I consume daily. All of these things have made me much happier and I feel like I am becoming a more interesting person. I like myself more.

5. I've taken time to reflect.

I've taken much more time to myself in the past month to just think, reflect, and be by myself. It has given me the time I've needed to make peace with some things and to improve my relationship with myself and with God. It's been vital for me to just have time to be alone with my thoughts.

6. I've allowed myself time to not have a plan.

So often I've tried to force myself into a path and to have a specific plan. I had a pretty specific plan about a month ago. But as I've been transitioning into a new person, I've realized that, along with needing to let go with who I used to be, I also need to let go of what I used to want and what my plans used to be. Giving myself this freedom has helped open up the myriad options that are now available for me. I think this has been one of the best things that I could have done at this point in my life. If I can find what I really want at this point in my life, it will make things so much easier and less painful in the future.

I'm still figuring things out. I'm still working on being a proactive participant in my life rather than a passive observer. But I'm trying and I'm much happier than I have been in a while.

10 July 2013

Belize So Far

First, you should know that my sunburn is amazingly better. Essential oils work miracles, people. Use them.

That said, last weekend we went up to Caye Caulker. It's an island off the coast of Belize. They have a series of keys (cayes) there. There were beaches and places to swim, but they weren't in the same place unfortunately. However, we didn't really have much beach time anyway. 

Saturday most of us went on a snorkeling tour. I felt like I was in Finding Nemo. It was fantastic. I saw manatees kiss and nuzzle (probably the most adorable thing I've ever seen); swam with schools of fish and was amazed at their ability to move as one entity; was about one foot away from five-foot-long sharks who were being fed by our guide (maybe I yelped when I got too close and it freaked me out a bit....); and became buddies with a sea turtle I lovingly named Marvin (seriously, he was adorable). Oh and we got to swim through the reef too. It made me really want to go to the Great Barrier Reef. It was an incredible experience.

The weekend before last, we were able to go to Guatemala and visit Tikal, one of the ancient Mayan cities (also where they filmed some of Star Wars, COOL). It was incredible. We also went zip-lining. Though I'd never been zip-lining before, I was pretty sure it was a more sketchy experience than what I would have experienced in the US.

Things back in San Ignacio have been going well. I've been teaching ESL to three women at one of the local nonprofit organizations we've been helping with. These women are so eager to learn and come ready and prepared for class. Were that all students had the same attitude, including me. I also helped to put on a community movie night last week. We partnered with another volunteer organization and the city center to put it on. We started too punctually, which was a bit frustrating for me after such careful planning and instructing everyone to start the movie a half hour late. Oh well, they learned for themselves and will start the next movie late. (Yes, everything here in Belize runs about a half hour to an hour late. It takes some adjusting.)

I think one of the things that has been the best for me here has been the opportunity to go out with Hermana Reyes, one of the missionaries here. It was fun to do missionary work in that way again. It was also crazy the contrast between being a missionary here and being a missionary in Portugal. People are actually nice to the missionaries here. Mind blowing. They smile and wave at the missionaries. They listen politely. They let you into their homes. The investigators they are working with are actually progressing and want to know if the gospel is true. It was so interesting to see. Hermana Reyes was also so lovely to work with. I wish that I could maintain my cool like she does. She was a great example for me.

In all Belize has proven to be both difficult and beneficial at once. I've made some really good friends here, but mostly it has shown me just how happy I am in my regular life doing my everyday thing. It's been a good time to take space and reflect on what is the most important for me. I feel like I have come to better understand where I want my life to go. I feel like I've also come closer to my Savior through the things I've gone through here. And I wouldn't trade that for the world.

No photos for now. They take WAY too long to upload here. The Internet is super spotty as it is. Check Facebook for some photos that have been posted. 

25 June 2013

Back in the Belize Groove

Today was the first day of working here that I felt I actually helped people and that I, Laura, was needed.

Last week I discovered there was a need for English classes at a local nonprofit organization we do a lot with. So I did a lot of research for both ESL and literacy classes in the past few days. And today I taught my first English class.

And I loved it.

Like a lot.

I forgot how much I love teaching language. I feel like I'm completely in my element. I had three amazing students. All Spanish-speaking women who only know the most basic English. They were so eager to learn and ready for anything I would teach them. I had them write down five things they wanted to accomplish or learn in this class and they wrote things down like, "Learn the alphabet," "How to greet someone," and "Pay for things at the store."

Today we went over numbers (they rocked it), introductions and leave takings, and the alphabet. Yes, we straight-up sang the ABC song. They already knew the song, which was helpful. And we practiced spelling and numbers for a bit. They were so happy to be there and we set it up to get together twice a week. One of the women, who had been hesitant to commit to twice a week, said at the end of class that she was going to talk to her husband and tell him she needed to come twice a week. It touched my heart to see how earnest they were in learning. I felt like I had really helped them and that I was needed there. I'm so pumped for classes next week.

Then after a game of cribbage with our Scottish friend, Dave, I ran into the sister missionaries. They flagged me down and asked if I could go out teaching with them right then. (I had told them in previous weeks that I wanted to help them whenever they needed me.) I noticed that one of the hermanas was missing and put it together why they needed me. That sister had fallen down last week and chipped of two of her teeth, so she went to El Salvador to get her teeth fixed. (Apparently Belize is the worst country in Central America for medical care. Here's to hoping I stay healthy!)

So I got to go out with Hermana Reyes for a few hours. We went over to the sister city of Santa Elena to teach a family. We picked up their bikes partway there.

Let me tell you about these bikes: They were super old beach cruisers, heavy as all get out, and had super cracked seats. The sister who went to El Salvador is about 5' tall, so she had lowered the seat to fit her. So imagine me, a 5'7" girl sitting on a bike set for a 5' tall girl. Oh and I was in a skirt. I looked ridiculous. My knees were up in my elbows and my stomach and almost to my face. Not really, but it felt like it.

We rode our bikes up the pothole-ridden, no sidewalks containing, street to get to their house. Thankfully we walked the bikes up the hills.

And then we taught Elston and Diana. Diana is a member of the Church, but hasn't been going in a long time and her boyfriend/almost husband is investigating the Church. It was SOOO much fun to teach again and to get a feel for the culture down here. It really brought me back to Portugal. So many things were the same. The fact that people would go off on tangents for a long time and you had to pull them back, everything starts so late and takes so long. It was just delightful. I didn't feel the stress of time because I wasn't in charge! I just got to teach and listen and learn. It was wonderful.

I really felt like I helped people and made a difference. It was a very welcome change. Hopefully it continues.

18 June 2013

Can You Belize It?

Hello everyone! It's my fifth day in Belize working with HELP International and I'm finally feeling settled into everything. The adjustment to living in Belize was no big deal. It's so much like living in Brazil with some things about living in Portugal. So nothing's really been new for me, except that there are refried beans at EVERY meal. So I'm eating refried beans for the first time in my life. They aren't as bad as I thought they would be. (That's right, guys, with all of my years of loving Mexican food, I have refused to try refried beans. They just look like fecal matter. Why would I want to ingest that?)

The thing that has been the biggest adjustment is living in a tiny apartment with eight people I just met. That was a bit of a struggle for me. There is never an alone moment. But I've adjusted to that and we're all getting to know each other and bond. Everyone is really great in the group. There are nine of us in total for this "wave" (month). Seven girls and two boys. (We all feel so bad for the boys, especially when we make them watch The Bachelorette with us. [And we have a TV here? What? I have never had a TV since moving away from home. It's weird.])

I am sleeping in the room that has the bathroom in it. The sink is outside of the toilet/bathtub area, so there are constantly people milling in and out of my "bedroom" area. It's kind of nice to have people around all the time, but to be able to do stuff on my own at the same time. It's not as restricting as having a companion was on my mission.

There are ants all over the place here. On the counters, in the bathtub, in my bed. Fortunately they're small and they're not all over. Just random ants here and there, but trying to completely eradicate them is futile.

On Saturday we went to Xunantunich, Mayan ruins that were HUGE! (Pictures are forthcoming. I forgot my camera, so I'm depending on others' photos of the trip.) It was really fun to climb up to the top of the structure (a Mayan temple type thing) and look out over the whole area. We're planning a trip to Tikal while we're here and also to ATM caves where there are more Mayan ruins. This is the place to see all things Mayan. So rad.

Yesterday we started our volunteer work with HELP International. We do a lot of work with a women's shelter here and I passed out flyers to promote their free computer classes and a clothing sale they're doing. We also looked into opening up a bike rental shop, so I went around to Department of Labor and the Town Council (Town Hall) to look into it. I was shocked at how nice everyone was and how quickly we were helped. That was not what I had expected. But, seriously, everyone is super nice here. They're happy to help you and answer any questions you have.

I expected to be in a small town in the middle of nowhere, which I am. But there's a surprising number of tourists that stay here in San Ignacio because of the architectural draws of the Mayan ruins. There are also a lot of ex patriots here. It's weird. But everyone speaks English, so I guess it wouldn't be a bad place for an American to relocate to.

We're in the middle of a tropical depression here, so it's been raining like crazy. It's been a welcome reprieve from the suffocating heat. My hair is, of course, crazy curly and I wear scarves in my hair almost every day to cover up the wreath of frizz I have framing my face.

That's all I've got for now. I'll send more updates and photos soon.

21 May 2013

Adventures with Stella: I'm Back

I went on a ride today. The second of the year. (This should tell you just how infrequently I go on rides.) And for the first time in almost two years, I wasn't scared, apprehensive, nervous, etc. I didn't jump when a car would whiz past me. I didn't avoid going up a curb with a two-inch lip on it. I didn't stay in when I could have.

And I feel like I reclaimed a part of me that's been lost for the past two years. And it feels good.

16 April 2013


I've been thinking a lot lately about humanity. Not the people sense of the word, but what makes us humane. I wrote an article last week that touched on some of these ideas.

This semester has been hard. I don't think I have ever felt so drained in every way in my life. And I can't really point to one thing. It's just been overall draining. This is part of why I've been largely absent on my blog. I don't like writing things that bring people down. I like to lift others up with my writing.

In my grad program (mass communications) we talk A LOT about the effects of the media and violence in the media seems to inevitably come up. It's been a hot topic lately with all of the school shootings and the correlation they have with violent video games. More research needs to be done to show anything stronger than a correlation, but that is somewhat beside the point.

I also work in the newsroom on campus and the news is on constantly. I was in Seattle the day that Sandy Hook happened and I largely missed the news coverage of it. I saw all of the politicians talking about gun control for the months following though. So that combined with my studies in violence in the media has brought it to the forefront of my mind. And it has made me think somewhat negatively about the media and its effects.

These effects may be true, but it is my belief that we are stronger than any effect of the media. There is something inherently good in humanity. We want to help. We want to be good. We want to be better.

I was in the newsroom yesterday when the attacks at the Boston Marathon happened. I don't know if it's because I have a dear friend who was at the site just minutes before the attack or if it's because I've been studying so much about violence or because I was in the newsroom watching coverage for hours, but it has been sitting heavy in my heart. It seems that things just keep getting worse. But that is only when I focus on the attack.

I found an article just now that hit me at my center. People amaze me at the depth of their willingness to give. We aren't perfect. Sometimes we do ugly things. But on the whole we all try to be good and kind. We come together in tragedy rather than isolate ourselves. That means something to me.

So I may not be in Boston and I may not be a Bostonian, but my heart is in Boston right now, wishing there were something more I could do. And I know I'm not alone in this feeling.

19 January 2013

The Best Show Yet

I should be doing reading for class, but it's really quiet in the Tanner building and there's that one guy on the phone who won't stop talking. It's just the right amount of noise to be irritatingly distracting. So I'll write instead.

Yesterday I spent most of the day at work. Fridays are really busy at the paper and I read through countless pages to get things ready. Typically I don't put headphones on while I work so people can get my attention if they need it. But it was an emotionally draining week and I just wanted to shut everyone out. I needed some alone time.

So I turned to Guster for my solitude. I have so many dear memories that come to mind when I listen to Guster. They have been my friends for over ten years now and I think of running around my neighborhood with my CD player, holding it so carefully so it wouldn't skip as I jogged around, listening to "Amsterdam" over and over and over.

I think of listening to "So Long" freshman year when I was frustrated with someone.

And whenever "Come Downstairs and Say Hello" comes on I have too many memories to choose from: taking an extra loop around the neighborhood with my sister so we could finish the song, singing along, having a bad day and being reminded to be strong because everything would be okay, and, my personal favorite, hearing the first few notes of the song at my first Guster show two years ago and screaming so loud the whole club could hear me (including the band), putting my arm around Berkeley and knowing that that was a perfect moment.

I've thought about that show a lot the past two years. I've been to a fair number of live shows and that has been by far the best experience I've had (Bruce was second on this list, which should tell you just how much I loved that Guster show). I went with my dearest friends and we were pretty close to the stage (except for the super tall woman in heels in front of us, rude). We all sang every song and danced and had the best time. I was transformed at that show. And you can ask my roommates, I didn't come down off of the Guster cloud for at least a week after that show.

When I listen to Guster, it isn't just about the music. It's about the people and the memories that tie us together. And listening to Guster yesterday reminded me mostly of that show and the joy I had in my heart in that moment. And that made me feel a little more healed and a lot better.

(For anyone looking for a song that will make you feel better every time, check out "Hang On." Guaranteed it will pick you up.) 

18 January 2013

On being ready

Here's a link to another editorial I wrote for the Universe.


07 January 2013

A head full of thoughts

Sometimes you get sick. And sometimes you start another semester of school while you're sick. And sometimes that day is just fine and nothing bad happens and you have a lovely dinner with a dear friend and yet when you get home you find yourself with a head full of thoughts.

And sometimes when that happens you turn to your guitar, Bruce, and you play and sing it out and that helps. And sometimes you watch episodes of Grey's Anatomy because it is pure escapist fiction and you have a parasocial relationship with the characters and you just need that. And sometimes that head full of thoughts makes it hard to sleep even though you're tired and sick.

But at least it's nothing more than a head full of thoughts. And overall life is good. And maybe sometimes it's good to have a head full of thoughts because it means that you're on to something. And it may just take some time to clear those thoughts out. But I'll take it. I'll relish in forward moving.