Friday Five!

Happy Friday, readers! It took me a few days to adjust from the jet lag, but after taking all the yoga classes, making/consuming all the smoothies, and having all the kitten snuggles, I think I’m pretty much fully re-adjusted to my Boston life. It feels the same, but different. Between a month abroad, and the new moon on Wednesday, I am feeling a lot of transformative juju, and I think the rest of this summer is going to provide some positive and necessary changes.

Here is a picture I took in London. I loved a lot of the street art there, and these fluorescent Power to the People signs were the best things ever:

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And now, four things from the internet + a list of stuff from the week that made me happy!

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On Veganism, Eating Disorder Recovery, and “No” Foods

In case you missed the latest of Gena’s beautiful essays, I highly recommend checking this one out. It tackles the very real dilemma of the idea of food restriction (or “no” foods) that confront those of us who are both vegan and in eating disorder recovery. How can we heal from eating disorder mentality (if it is indeed an ED related to food restriction and “bad” foods) if part of our entire way of life, as vegans, is dedicated to eliminating entire food groups? I feel lucky that the way I view not eating meat and dairy feels very different mentally than not eating, say, sugar or fat (or whatever else I was deciding was “bad” for me at the time). But that’s not the case for everyone, and so many ED specialists try to counsel patients into practicing a sort of lack of attachment to food, as a way to stop obsessing about it. Gena pushes back on that; she writes: “I…dislike any suggestion that food should be without meaning or importance, even if it’s offered for the sake of overcoming the anxieties and fears of an ED. For one thing, food isn’t meaningless or without importance. It is profoundly important to all of mankind, because we are creatures with rich inner lives and complex feelings and a tapestry of culture in addition to the fact that we have bodies, and those bodies have nutritional demands. The fact that food is meaningful to us is evidenced in our rich culinary traditions, in the importance we place on gathering at a table and breaking bread, in our rich legacy of cookbooks and recipes. I went on a date once with a man who told me that if there were a fullness pill, he’d take it, because he had a busy life and considered eating to be a strain on his schedule. But such individuals really are few and far between. I challenge most anyone to say that food is just food, or just fuel. And it strikes me as especially unrealistic to think that anyone who has struggled with an ED would be able to make such a claim. For most of us, food is meaningful and important. The question is, can we channel that meaning into positive, healthful, and self-loving directions?” I recommend reading the whole article if this is something you or someone you know has struggled with.

7 LGBT Issues That Matter More Than Marriage

This is just a friendly reminder that although it’s important and significant and generally pretty wonderful that marriage equality is now the law of the US land, that there are things to organize for beyond marriage. I have assigned this helpful Buzzfeed piece in classes before, and I think now more than ever is a time to remind our movements that the recent SCOTUS decision will not help ameliorate the things that impact the most marginalized members of the LGBTQ community, like homelessness, lack of health care access, disporportionate prison and policing, suicide, racial violence, etc. I’m stoked to party at more weddings, but let’s keep fighting for justice and liberation, yeah?! <3

6 Steps You Can Take to Start Healing from Trauma

This piece from CarmenLeah Ascensio provides a thoughtful, informed, and important list of ways we can take care of ourselves after traumatic experiences, no matter how long ago they happened. I’ve vaguely mentioned on here that I was recently diagnosed with PTSD and so the subject of trauma has become something I have been literally incapable of ignoring during my healing and recovery process. Lists like these are very welcome additions to my toolbox of coping mechanisms.

Chopped Kale Salad + Creamy Almond Ginger Dressing 

Well, this beautiful salad from Edible Perspective is basically all the things that I love in a bowl. Kale, radishes, mushrooms, avocado, cabbage, asparagus, and zucchini create the luscious base for the delicious-sounding almond ginger dressing. I love salads all year round, but this crispy goodness sounds especially perfect for this hot July weather. Nom.

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Stuff from the Week that Made Me Happy

as much as I loved being England, I was happy that my week started off by landing back in the states!; (that said, it also made me happy this week to reflect on all the great memories from the trip); SMOOTHIES made me happy this week, along with all the other food I have been consuming that I had not been able to eat while abroad (mostly just lots of kale and turmeric :)); hot summer weather; yoga & sculpt; being reunited with my handsomest boycat and getting allllll the snuggles; dinners with friends; a very relaxing and restorative ladies pool day; phone calls & Skype calls; planning fun things to do with a certain upcoming British visitor;  LaCroix (it’s so refreshing, guys); this cat video; & a real sense of optimism that things/my perspective are shifting for the better. <3

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What made you happy this week? xoxo

Mindfulness Monday: Leave Things Better than You Found Them

Hello from the USA! I have returned from my month-long sojourn to the UK and although I had many great experiences there, I am eager to get back to my routine here in the States. Although I feel like I did a lot of growing and transforming during my time abroad, I also lost some of my practices that had been really helpful for me the past few months, including being really intentional about mindfulness exercises. So I didn’t want to waste anytime getting back to my Mindfulness Monday posts!

This week’s intention—-“leave things better than you found them”—- was the last practice in the How to Train a Wild Elephant book I’ve been working from. It, to me, is one of the most profound mindfulness exercises in which we can engage.

Life can be kind of shit. From national tragedies in Charleston to personal tragedies in our own lives, there is a lot of heavy, sad, awful shit in our world. I don’t know, for certain, what the meaning of life is or what our purpose is, but I do have a hunch that the universe would appreciate it if we tried to do things with and in our life that made the world a little bit less shit. And leaving things better than you found them is one way to do that.

This practice can take many forms, and I find that it’s good to start small. Since setting this intention, I’ve been particularly mindful about picking up random trash (wildly common on vacant coffee shop tables), doing dishes in other people’s homes when I visit, and turning off lights after leaving a room. This can also be applied to humans (and other animals). It can mean finding a way to (non-creepily and non-lookism-promotingly) compliment someone, sincerely thanking someone, or sincerely apologizing to someone.

The leaving people thing better than you found them is certainly a more arduous task. The trash you pick up off a coffee table can’t hurt your feelings, but humans can. And so leaving people better than we found/met them means finding ways to practice intentional, relational mindfulness in a serious and deep way. It means forgiveness, empathy, and compassion. I don’t always succeed at this. It’s impossible to go through life without being hurt or hurting someone you know and love. But if we keep this intention in mind, we can spend our everyday working to repair hurts and heal wounds, and using past experiences to become more adept at practicing loving-kindness in the future.

I think one reason I love both my jobs (teaching yoga and teaching college) is that I get to see actual evidence of leaving people better—(or at least happier or somehow transformed in a positive way)—than I found them. This sometimes comes in the form of a student telling me they felt deeply connected to a reading I assigned, or telling me how much it helps to have a professor they feel comfortable talking to. In yoga, I get to see sweaty, smiling faces leave the studio. I get to give head and neck massages to people in savasana (students (myself included when i’m the student) love it!). I sometimes feel literally high after teaching a yoga or sculpt class, partly because it feels so awesome to have just led people through something that I know is so good for their mind/body/spirit! I love that feeling so much!

When it comes to leaving the world better than we found it, in a social justice sense, I think it’s important that we apply our individual mindfulness practice to structural-based organizing. This is not an easy task either, but I have come to believe that in order to do our best in the struggle for a collective better world, we must also have a practice of being better as individuals. Ghandi’s whole “be the change you wish to see in the world” thing is kind of legit, you know?

But maybe start small this week. Pick up trash. Eat something that leaves your tummy better than it felt the day before. Smile at someone, hug someone, be kinder than usual to someone you find who needs it. Plant flowers in some naked dirt. Maybe go to a meeting to organize a rally or a fundraiser, or read a book about something you feel passionate about fixing in some way.

Leaving things better than we found them is a way to practice active non-harming. It’s a way to not only not-harm but also heal, generate, transform. It’s a lovely practice and one I hope to become better and better at.

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What other ways can we leave things better than we found them? xoxo

England Adventures Part 3: Workouts!

I haven’t done a workout post in a while, and I especially love sharing fitness updates while I’m traveling because it means I am usually having to be creative and not relying on my yoga and sculpt classes at home. So I thought I’d take today’s post to give you a glimpse into the workouts I’ve been doing in England this month.

post-workout selfie.

post-workout selfie.

I have been very lucky to have a gym in the basement of the abbey. It’s fully stocked with treadmills, weight machines, and free weights.

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Running outside has been near impossible with the condition my left knee is in, but for whatever reason, doing 25 minutes on the treadmill about four-five times a week has been fine for me since I’ve been here. I find it to be a great warm-up to strength-focused HIIT work and/or yoga. I like doing interval running the most. I usually start at level 5, and then increase by .5 every minute until I’m up to level 8, then go back down to 5 and do it all over again. This kind of running appeals to me more than one steady pace both because it does more for your heart and also it’s less boring. :)

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When I’m done running, I generally spend some time with the free weights, or follow along to an exercise video on YouTube. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know some of my favorite YouTube trainers include Zuzana, Melissa Bender, and the PurelyTwins. But my new most favorite addition has been Christine Salus. I absolutely love her workouts (and her personality too!—which is sometimes a hard combination to find). This month I’ve enjoyed this tabata workout, this arm workout, and this 30 minute HIIT. When I have more time, I love her 45-60 minute long workouts.

I try to end my workouts with at least 15 minutes of yoga. I usually do my own routines with some pretty music in the background, but sometimes I watch yoga Youtube videos, like this one.

the gym has these nifty yoga mats with a helpful yoga pose guide. : )

the gym has these nifty yoga mats with a helpful yoga pose guide. : )

Being able to stick to a near-daily workout routine has been really helpful for my mental health. I had been struggling with feeling grounded even before coming here, so having that familiar consistency has been very helpful for me.

There are some days, however, that I don’t get to fit in a workout, which is something I struggle with both at home and while traveling. Taking rest days is a challenge for me. But I’m happy to say that I’ve made a lot more peace with it this past month. The days I haven’t been able to go to the gym have been the days that we leave early for big day trips to awesome places, like London, Stonehenge, and Bath. The idea of getting bent out of shape for not working out as I’m en route to supercool spots has, fortunately, seemed pretty foolish to me. My plan is to practice this kind of attitude toward rest days back at home as well!

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What workouts have you been doing lately? What do you like to do when you travel? xoxo

England Adventures Part 2: FOOD! (The Good, The Bad, The Resourceful)

Hello again from the UK! Because this started out as a food blog, I thought it would be a good idea to do a post dedicated to what I’ve been eating over here. Before I get to the actual food though, I want to take a moment to pause in gratitude for my current mental health around food and eating. I admittedly (and as it turns out, for good reason) had some anxiety about how I would eat over here. Although I’ve distanced myself from the worst of my disordered eating, as a vegan and as someone who likes to feel good (mentally/physically/emotionally/spiritually) after eating food, I inevitably practice  a large amount of control over my food choices. I have routines and emergency plans when I’m at home. I have smoothies or juice in the morning to ensure protein and greens, I have pre-packed snacks and lunches, I always know where to find the nearest Whole Foods (or equivalent). Agreeing to a live in England for a full month on a study abroad program, in which 80% of our food would be eaten on site in the rural campus cafeteria, meant throwing all of that control out of the window.

There would have been a time in my history when I may have found that lack of control too much to handle. Not being able to have green smoothie every morning may have led me to politely decline taking this job altogether. I am super fucking proud of myself for getting to the point where not being able to eat “Raechel-food” all the time is no longer a thing that would keep me from taking advantage of life adventures. At 30 years old I have gotten to a point where I can hang with acceptance over control. And so, I fit as many of my current favorite vegan bars-that-could-double-as-meals in my bag as I could, took a deep breath, and got on the plane.

As I suspected, the cafeteria food situation is subpar at best. There is a salad bar that, on a good day, is stocked with something other than ice berg lettuce (ps: did you know they call arugla “rocket” over here?), veggies, and avocado (yeah that’s like a twice a week staple, yay!). On a good day, the main course and sides will include a grain or veggie that is not covered in cheese. On a bad day, I was eating ice berg lettuce and tons of bread, something I almost never eat at home because I don’t feel very good when I eat it. A typical plate looked like this the first week:

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And my feeble attempt to make something “smoothie-like” involved stirring a protein powder pack in a cup of water and eating a piece of raw turmeric root. (I don’t recommend this):

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So when we made it to some surrounding towns, I made sure to scout out all the green juices and lovely UK vegan bars I could find!

2015-06-17 15.32.42I was so excited to find kale and veggie juice in ball and bar form! Upon discovering them in a health food store, I literally exclaimed out loud, “Oh my God, KALE BALLS, this solves everything!” #thingsweirdoveganssay

The best food of the trip has been, hands down, my weekend in Leeds where I got to enjoy both a vegan festival and incredibly delicious home cooked “lesbian curry” (named by the cook herself, don’t worry). The vegan fest was so huge and so fun. It was really neat to feel community with such like-spirits, 1,300 miles from home.

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At the vegan fest, I got an amazingly delicious green smoothie, bars to take to go, and had a bite of my friend Louie’s excellent sweet potato burger. Louie is someone I met when, back in America last month, I was planning for the class I’m teaching here. It is encouraged that the faculty take students to site visits to different places relevant to our class, so I reached out to various LGBT and racial justice orgs in England. Louie works for a really awesome youth organization that helps formerly incarcerated youth, and also founded an organization called Yorkshire Trans Support Network. He was full of helpful ideas for my class and has also ended up turning into a good friend. It’s been nice to have a social outlet away from the students (not that I don’t love my students!).

The lesbian curry was enjoyed at the home of some new friends I met through Louie. They used a visit from an American as an excuse to host a dinner party, and I was so happy to encourage that, because the food and the company were perfect. Seriously, this coconut sweet potato lentil curry was the best curry I’ve ever had. There was also vegan chocolate cake for dessert. So delicious!

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Here are some of the beverages I enjoyed in Leeds also:

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I have also found a secret way to make cafeteria dining more tolerable. I buy little hummus packets and baby kale–(no regular kale to be found anywhere; wtf England?)– when we take our weekly trips into the nearest city center, and add it to whatever is vegan/edible in the dining hall. I had a great baked potato/hummus/beet thing that was pretty solid:

2015-06-09 13.09.43And, of course, I am drinking LOTS of tea! (and this place even had a vegan cake for me to enjoy on the side! serving tea with some kind of sweet is a thing here):

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So, ya know, it could be better, but it could be worse. And the fact that sometimes I have to eat bread to fill up and that I don’t have a panic attack about it is REALLY EXCITING! Yay!

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How do you feel when you have to give up control over food during travel? xoxoox

Adventures in England: Part 1

Greetings from Wroxton, England! I’ve finished my first week of living and teaching in Wroxton as one of the faculty leading the summer study abroad program. It’s been an incredibly full, fascinating, and wonderful week, and I still have three more to go! I thought I’d give some general updates on the blog, and also, to keep in blog theme, do some separate posts about food/workout stuff (more on that soon).

First, get a load of where I’m actually living:

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The Wroxton Abbey.

Wtf, right? I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for what I’m about to say, but I am actually not super excited about the abbey itself. Like a lot of historical castle-like buildings in the UK and Europe, I’m a little grossed out by the ways in which they represent massive, disproportionately distributed wealth. I have never been one to ooo and aaah about gold trim and chandeliers.

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That said, it’s an incredibly interesting experience to be housed in such a place. And I will say I am smitten with the grounds outside the abbey, both on the campus and in the town right outside it. Wroxton is a truly idyllic proper English countryside.

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Lambies in my backyard!

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This is the local pub we frequent after a day of classes. The locals are incredibly warm and friendly.

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We also take a lot of day trips to other cities throughout the country. We’re quite near Branbury, Oxford, and Stratford-upon-Avon, all charming and quaint little towns.

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On Saturdays, we go to London for the day. In contrast to the serene and distinguished spots I’m in during the week, I wanted to spend most of my time in London exploring the opposite. After a week of Downton Abbey and Harry Potter-esque scenery, I was ready for the gritty, contemporary reality of a decidedly unique urban area.

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But, of course, I made sure to snap some photos of the big tourist attractions as well:

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I’m spending the majority of the class I’m teaching (Intercultural Communication) discussing the state of contemporary British society, and am largely focused on London. We’re discussing gentrification, the ways in which British socialist-influenced policies (like socialized healthcare) are being compromised by austerity and global capitalism, the debates surrounding multiculturalism (and how this is being coded as racist, anti-immigrant sentiment), among many other things. It’s been really fascinating to learn more about this country during my preparation for teaching, and also being immersed in it.

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I already feel like this trip is transformative. I’ve had to adjust and adapt as a cultural outsider. I’ve had to find peace with the spaces outside of my comfort zone. I’ve had to figure out how to be the “grownup” on the trip, considering I’m responsible for sixteen students, ages 19-21, both in the classroom and during our excursions. (For example, when you are on a bus trip back to campus and a student on the bus is going to throw up because she had a pint in the middle of the afternoon and you have to get the bus to pull over and make sure she has a place to be sick and then help two other students find a bathroom to pee and all the while you are like, “OMG I am the one ‘in charge’, what is this, when did I become the adult?!”).

It’s been pretty wonderful. Can’t wait to experience more and share more. Stay tuned. <3

“cheers!”

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Have you spent any time in England (and/or do you live there)? Any recommendations on other things I should check out? xoxoxoxo

Mindfulness Monday: Chopped

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I’ve never been particularly good at chopping fruits and veggies. I remember the first time I had to chop in a public setting. I was 17 and it was at the punk soup-kitchen Food Not Bombs; I was put on carrot chopping duty and I had a mild panic attack. What if my pieces are too big? Too small? Not uniform?! Fortunately, none of the punks complained about the carrots, but my chopping anxiety has continued to this day and I will often break into a cold sweat if someone is watching me chop anything. I prefer to do my chopping alone, so my misshapen and differently-sized pieces can exist without judgement.

But getting better at chopping is something I am trying to tackle for a number of reasons. First, knives are sharp. Haphazard chopping can lead not only to non-uniform food, but also bloody fingers. Second, chopping can be a true exercise in mindfulness. Chopping is a multi-step process that requires attention at every turn. To chop, one must first learn how to hold a knife. One must feel on their fingers the soft edge of the blade, and in their palm, the sturdy of the handle. To chop, one starts to hear the musicality of the tip of the knife against the cutting board, the sound of the blade swishing through a potato (or whatever else). To chop, one must have patience. It is, then, an ideal mindfulness practice, don’t you think?

My mission for this week is to chop mindfully, starting with this pineapple I am bringing to a Memorial Day Cookout-slash-Bday Party later this afternoon. I’m not going to lie, chopping a pineapple intimidates the crap out of me. But I think it’ll be an excellent start to this week’s challenge. Go big or go home.

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Are you a mindful chopper? xo

Friday Five!

Hello friends, it’s been a while! The past few weeks have been very busy, and a little bit heavy, but also in some moments very light. It’s been finishing grading final papers, attending commencement ceremonies, teaching and taking a lot of a yoga and sculpt, and doing tons of things to prepare for my impending trip to England. It’s been laughing and crying and reflecting and loving and missing and celebrating and honoring. You know, life stuff.

Here is a picture of some nature I walked through on Sunday. The weather has been beautiful and I’ve been trying to take more walks, just for a walks’ sake. Not walking somewhere, just walking….

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And now, the Friday Five!

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Feeling Is Not a Weakness: Sadness, Mourning and Movement

This is a beautiful piece about the role of sadness and grief in movement organizing. About how, when it comes to resisting oppression, we shouldn’t be afraid of our pain or our vulnerability.  It’s worth the whole read, but here is a particularly poignant passage: “The same qualities that make the state overwhelming are the ones that, in fact, make it weak. An unfeeling devotion to profit, to the grotesque amassing of resources, at the expense of community, people and planet, is not strength. There is, in fact, nothing sadder than believing in the sacrifice of life for material, control, and power. The most intense violence—which we are seeing ramp up—the intentional erasure of history, the use of militaristic force, solitary confinement, the reneging of basic rights, assault, abuse, will never stop our communities from feeling. It will never end our love for our own lives, for the lives of our ancestors, for the lives of our children. It will never dissuade us from fighting back.” 

Tea as Consent

So this video manages to make something as serious as sexual assault into a metaphor about tea, and manages to do it successfully and poignantly. It’s a great teaching tool and one that rightly puts the onus on potential perpetrators rather than victims to eradicate sexual assault and rape culture.

Colds and Exercise

Okay, this one is for those of you still read this thing for fitness-y stuff (which I’ve been neglecting covering on the blog as much). I always end up googling “exercising with a cold” when I get sick because I always *want* to exercise but never know if I should or not. I always seem to find conflicting advice (and usually end up going for it, sometimes for better sometimes for worse). That’s why I was glad to see this summary of a collection of actual scientific studies over at Fit Is a Feminist Issue. The short version is that it is safe and sometimes can make symptoms feel better, but there is no conclusive evidence that it actually does anything to eradicate the cold. And rest is proven to help a cold. So, it’s still a bit fuzzy, but at least these things are from science and not my usual browsing of responses to this question from the weird gravatars on Yahoo Answers.

Quinoa, Carrot, and Spinach Salad with Spicy Carrot Chili Vinaigrette 

Tis the season for simple salads, and naturally Gena from Choosing Raw has created a great one. I love love love the sound of this spicy dressing!

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Stuff from the (Past Few) Week(s) that Made Me Happy

yoga; Sculpt; facilitating a really amazing discussion about race, gender, and sexuality at a community youth organization called Movement City; being at that same event and getting to meet this fabulous 13-year-old out-gay Latino student who was just dropping fierce knowledge about intersectionality, and I just felt like there is so much hope and amazingness in our world and in our youth and it was very inspiring (!); taking nature walks; friend phone calls, texts, skypes, and gchats; real-life friend time too!; planning for and getting more excited about my trip to England; finding out that students had been writing letters to try to get the school where i work to figure out a way to keep funding my job, and getting a letter one of the students wrote, and just having all the tears and all the feelings because apparently i’m pretty okay at this teaching thing; this video of laura jane grace & miley cyrus singing “true trans soul rebel”;  the turmeric/kale/ginger soup that i had for dinner literally every night for a week because it makes me feel like a million bucks and helps soothe my (physical&emotional!) aches and pains; podcasts (thanks LD for the new one!); feminist book club; kitten snuggles (so many snuggles!); connecting with a friend about new buddhist practices for healing; DIY clay mask self-care time; getting a new letter from my prison pen-pal; seeing my seniors graduate at commencement and feeling so proud and excited for them; karaoke-ing two of my favorite songs at one of my favorite bars in my neighborhood with good pals; lady talk over wine on a warm-night porch; & new springtime jams.

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What made you happy this week? Have a great weekend! xoxoox