Wednesday, August 16, 2017

30 Days of Gratitude: Prompt 23

Hopefully you enjoyed yesterday's prompt about a story I'm grateful for that taught me how to be way more prepared in the outdoors. Happy Wednesday, the week is now half-way over! I feel as if the start of this week dragged on painfully slow and now we're on that final slope to the finish. I'm stoked for the next few days. All-things on the social life front are looking pretty spectacular till I head to bed on Sunday night. From birthday dinners, family time, catching up with best friends, greasily working on both my newly-purchased classic motorcycle and project car (hobby things!), to diving head-first into my training for my upcoming backpacking trip. I also can't wait to thrive in some quality relaxing me time. I'm also strongly considering taking a distant trip next weekend to get away and do some hiking. We'll see. Needless to say, there's a lot to look forward to happening very soon. Let's get to gratitude prompt number 23.

Day 23: What Season Are You Grateful For? 

The answer is obvious if you're been reading these gratitude prompts on my blog the past twenty-three days, but now there's an actual question that focuses on it! I'm so, so, so grateful for fall. And i'm unbelievably excited for it to arrive here in just a couple weeks. I guess the official autumnal equinox or start of this glorious season is September 22. 

I'm grateful for the season of fall for a latitude of reasons. It's the main part of the year when I strive get outside as much as possible to hike and camp. Let's just put this out on the table, fall is the ideal time for any kind of outdoor activity. No crowds, cooler temperatures, explosive colors and no mosquitos. That sounds perfect to me. A few of my backpacking friends and I are already trying to get a few weekends jotted down on our calendars for adventures near and far. I'm aching to get back up to Governor Thompson State Park located within northern Wisconsin in the mighty Peshtigo River State Forest (pictured atop) and head even further north to Craig Lake State Park in the UP of Michigan. I took a memorable backpacking trip there in the fall of 2013 and I've been really wanting to go back there for years. It's the most-remote, hardest-to-access state park in Michigan. Some of the greatest hikes around Milwaukee are just ming-blowing when the fall colors take over? Ever been to the Schlitz Audubon Center in late October? Wow. 

The traditions and social happenings that take place during the fall months are easily some of the most enjoyable too. From weekly gatherings at friends' houses to watch the Packers games, group dinners, weddings, drives, camping trips, game and movie nights, meets at coffee shops, chili cook-offs and more. I looked at my schedule planner this morning and I've got almost every weekend from now until middle November booked with some kind of social amazement scribbled down. I'm pumped. Mmhmm. 

Fall's overall relaxing mood is something I crave too. It feels like everything slows down to this breathable, calm pace. I can't wait to on a weekend morning, wake up, throw on jeans and a flannel or hoodie, and walk around the neighborhood with a thermos of tea in-hand, the leaves brushing around on the ground and falling from the trees. I can't wait to get in my car or on my motorcycle and go for a ride when the temperatures drop and the sun sets. I can't wait to sit in a local coffee shop in front of a big window, with an engaging book and read for hours while sipping on something pumpkin flavored. Not to forget, the sunsets that fill the sky during fall are jaw-dropping.

AND...AND my favorite holiday of Halloween happens in the fall! Costume parties, scary movie evenings, carving pumpkins, haunted houses, decorations galore and consuming pounds of candy corn.


On the iPod...

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

30 Days of Gratitude: Prompt 22

How's your Tuesday going? Hopefully it's the very best. I continue to enjoyably soak up this new morning ritual I have of journaling while sitting at the table for breakfast before heading out to work. Starting off a new, fresh day by reflecting, refocusing and writing away is wonderful. Try it, yo! Last night I stepped-up my training regimen for my upcoming backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park come October. After a solid session rock climbing, I was craving some exhausting cardio. When I got home, I threw on my 50lb weight vest and went for an hour walk through the neighborhood at upbeat pace. What made this late evening workout even better? I got to chat on the phone with a great friend  the entire time about all things life. Prompt number 22 cues a good response today, so let's do it.

Day 22: What Story Are You Grateful For? 

I can't help but think back to my very first time doing a solo backpacking trip. Which was both so memorably fun but also a bit of a disaster filled with  mistakes. It was during the winter of 2014 and I had just recently reacquired a strong thirst for the outdoors and nature. I was transitioning between careers and when I wasn't working or hanging out, I was pretty much always hiking or camping somewhere. Literally every weekend, outside as much as possible.

I decided that I wanted to break out of my comfort zone and really test myself by planning a winter backpacking trip to the northern Wisconsin/Michigan Upper Peninsula (da Yoop/UP!) border in the vast Menominee River State Recreation Area. I wasn't able to get an extra day off work and it was quite a drive to reach the trailhead so I drove up very early on a February, Saturday morning. When I got out of the car it was 18 degrees. I had done plenty of summer and a little bit of fall camping but this would be my first time fully-exposed to the elements of winter. I was a ecstatic though, I had all of my outdoor gear (or so I thought) and tons of energy. I strapped on my snowshoes, loaded up my pack and hiked a few hours out into wilderness. Shortly before sunset, I reached a flat ridge above the Menominee River, that was bustling below. Across the river, I could see northern Michigan. It was such a cool sight. I was straight exhausted though, underestimating how difficult it is to snowshoe through knee-deep snow with the a heavy pack (of course I over-packed) on your back. Mistake number one, make sure you're in the best physical shape you can be before taking on such endeavor. 

Mistake number two, do not haul two, one-gallon jugs of water in the backcountry when it's below freezing. The water had completely froze by the time I pitched my tent and I was left with two solid-ice plastic milk jugs to haul back with me to my car the next afternoon (idiot, Robby, idiot move). Mistake number three, sure you have the right gear. At this time of my life when I was getting more into the outdoors, my twenty-four year-old self  made a foolish assumption that the majority of my cheapo fall and summer camping/hiking gear would suffice in the cold. Wrong, wrong, dead wrong. The only thing that did? My brand-new, three-season, expensive backpacking tent. I didn't have waterproof boots, a down sleeping bag rated to below-zero, down jackets and outer shells, a footprint for my tent or a sleeping pad. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, looking at my watch and it was around 2AM. I grabbed my thermometer, squinted and read the temperature had reached close to -14. Why did I wake up? My feet were numb and I couldn't move them. I stripped my damp socks off and shining a headlamp on them, it seemed like frost bite had started. In a slight panic (which you should never do) I desperately grabbed as much warm clothing as I could and one of those silver, reflective emergency blankets you see on sale at gas stations, and wrapped it around my feet.

I eventually regained feeling in my feet and was able to get back to sleep, but at the same time I felt like a complete moron. Temperatures were in the low single digits the next crisp morning but it was incredibly quiet, beautiful and serene. The sky the most genuine shade of rich blue ever. Up until this overnight, I had never experienced raw wilderness at its unleashed max power. The prior night was filled with billions of stars above, the crashing sounds of the icy river and waterfalls below my tent, and frequent howling of wolves off in the distance. I wasn't scared though, rather just stuck in this constant amazement. Being able to wake up, unzip your tent and see Northern Michigan  across the water out my vestibule is a vision I will never forget. I'm grateful that I have a story to tell like this, because it made me realize a lot of the stupid, amateur mistakes I made. You can bet since that fist solo backpacking trip that I've gone out and dropped serious cash on real outdoor gear for all sorts of different activities and conditions. I'd rather not run into those same mishaps in the backcountry again. I revisit this story often, smile and laugh.


On the iPod...(because I love the meaning behind this song)


Monday, August 14, 2017

30 Days of Gratitude: Prompt 21

Wow it's already 2pm! I'm taking my lunch (and finishing this post I wrote this AM) right now because my productivity at work today has been through the roof and it's… only Monday? I'm either going to blame it on all the strong coffee I've had today or the fact that at breakfast this morning, I bought my plane tickets to Colorado. Colorado! I'm going backpacking in Rocky Mount National Park this coming October. Stay tuned for a blog post about that trip itinerary soon. 

So it's a new week! Hopefully you all had a great weekend. Last night my dad, two younger brothers and I went to see the Sunday night short track races at legendary Slinger Speedway. It's Americana at its finest. It's very loud, very enjoyable and it's a family tradition we do every year. Again, stressing the importance and gratitude of traditions. Around 11pm last night when I got back home, I went for a walk the neighborhood to cap-off the solid weekend. It was so relaxing, and right before I went to bed I pulled out my weekly planner that I have and starting filling the empty day's agendas with all sorts of fun stuff planned for the next upcoming days. I'm looking forward to a fresh week. My gut tells me it's going to be a good, memorable one :). Emojis are okay to use right? Mmhmm. Onwards to day 21 of this '30 Days of Gratitude' prompt. Nine more to go! 

Day 21: What small thing that you use daily are you grateful for? 

Today's prompt I thought was pretty clever and my response was easy- a journal. I catch myself always writing about something. Whether it be a little reminder note on recycled scratch paper, a to-do list at work I make every morning, a post on this blog or a full-blown series of paragraphs in my own journal. I find the greatest satisfaction and joy in writing. To me, it's the most therapeutic and calming way to take whatever's going on in your head and heart, and analyze it through paper and pen. I almost always have a journal with me. There's my travel journal, weathered and battered that comes with me on every outdoor adventure, then my own personal journal that gets its pages scribed and filled up pretty quickly, there's even a tiny notebook in my car I occasionally use at stoplights or if I'm stuck in traffic. Writing is a powerful addiction, and I'm glad I do it

I seriously started getting into writing during the summer of 2007, when I went on a youth mission trip through our local church to a village called San Jose El Tesoro, in Guatemala's Yalpemech region. Every night, I would write a few pages about what we did, what I saw, and how I felt about this unfiltered, raw exposure to life in third-world Guatemala. It was an incredible, incredible trip, and at seventeen years old- it lit my spark for traveling. As the years went by I kept up journaling, on trips near and far, but it was mainly solely about travel writing. Then in, 2011 when I lived in Vietnam for four months in college, one of my best friends with me at the time, Gabe, always had this pocket-size journal that he would carry around with him. He'd write down reflections, conversations with people familiar and strangers, doodles of things he saw-  he did this all the time. Gabe would also accidentally leave it behind at nearly every bar or restaurant that we went to haha. It was purely inspiring seeing how engaged Gabe was with his little diary-style journal. Then in 2013, I decided to give it a shot and went out to my local book store to buy a new journal. I committed that I'd write in it as much as humanly possible. Four years later, today I still find myself writing almost daily. I'll fill the pages with triumphant things, quotes I like, rants, recollections, reflections, raves, song lyrics that struck a note personally, ideas, lists, trip plans and the every-so-often scrapbook-esque memento taped in on a blank page. You know that cliche question of "If you had to grab one thing out of your home if it was on fire, what would it be?" Yep, you bet it'd be my journal.

Writing really helps me. I always encourage other people to start writing in a journal or if they've slacked away from it- get back at it. Pronto. You get a chance to see just how much you've grown and changed for the better when you go back to journals from years ago and reminisce. Plus, that feeling of scribbling the last possible word on a page and having to go buy a new, clean-slate journal is a reward like no other. So try it out, go buy a journal, sit down and just write about what's on your mind, or draw some crazy sketch of something in front of you, or make a list of places you want to visit this fall or brainstorm a series of steps you can follow to make yourself happier, whatever it is- just, write.


On the iPod...

Sunday, August 13, 2017

30 Days of Gratitude: Prompt 20

Good morning and happy Sunday to all of you! First, I want to wish a big thank you to everyone who has been following along  on my blog with these '30 Days of Gratitude' prompts. The number of people reading each post continues to rise, day after day, and I've been really enjoying everyone reaching out to tell me they're own unique reply to the prompt. It's been quite inspiring. The replies I had people message or tell to me, from yesterday's prompt were awesome. Last night, I went with five of my friends I rock climb with to a microbrew on Milwaukee's East Side that opened up just shy of a year ago. It's called Good City and their beer is absolutely delicious. We all sat in front of one of the big, open garage doors, talking and laughing all night. You can surely bet that after four of their dark, strong porters I was thoroughly enjoying my Saturday evening. This AM, I happily yelled out to my Amazon Echo "Alexa, play the Dave Matthews Band station on Pandora," started cooking breakfast and sat down to write this post. Another perfect morning in Shorewood with a sweet day planned ahead.

Pour yourself out a cup of coffee and let's look at today's prompt.

Day 20: What Knowledge Are You Grateful For?

We all have something we know a ton about and are proud of that wealthy bank of knowledge stored away above in our head. Maybe you have an extensive recollection of what exactly goes into brewing the best batch of homemade beer, or you know how to memorize a monologue for an upcoming play or you can sit down and explain the entire history of the Civil War. Maybe you know what exact exercises one needs to do to regain strength in a damaged joint, or you know how to sail a sailboat in high winds, or you can tell what all entails designing, coding and publishing an app for a smart phone or website layout. Whatever it is, we all have this giant batch knowledge about some niche thing that we find fascinating or of up-most importance to us. It's super cool, I think.

For me, it's cars, my knowledge about cars. I'm a huge car geek and I'm not ashamed of it at all. I'm grateful that I know the history of cars, how they work, how to drive them to their limits, how to fix them if something goes wrong and how to buy a car. One of my most treasured things to do, is work on my car.

I've been obsessed with cars since I was a young child, when my mom would push me out in a stroller to the corner or Range Line and Brown Deer Road to watch cars go by. I remember getting Matchbox or Hot Wheels cars as rewards for potty training and you guess correctly that I had one of those cliche city road rugs in my bedroom growing up. I remember reading more car magazines like 'Car and Driver' or 'Motor Trend'  in middle school than actual books required for English class. My middle school friends and I would sit around and compare 0-60mph times and top speeds of cars, because when you're eleven years old, those were the only two things that mattered. I also remember before getting my license, sneaking my parents car out of the garage and driving around the neighborhood. Sorry but not sorry haha, consider it early practice. In high school, I worked jobs at a big Toyota dealership and then a used, European luxury car dealership as a detailer. Then I got my 2001 Chevrolet Camaro after finishing sophomore year of high school, that was and still is my pride and join. Some 16 years later I still have it, and I'm damn proud I do.

Since getting my license, I've made a super strong effort to learn as much as I can about cars and what it takes to keep them in tip-top mechanical shape. I've watched YouTube videos, had friends show me how to work on stuff, read how-to guides in magazines and books and just straight-up gone into fixing something purely trial-and-error. I figure if it all comes apart, it can be put back together again like Legos right? Right. Well, maybe. It started with simply changing out burnt-out light bulbs and oil changes to now, installing exhaust systems and doing body work and at the moment- replacing the entire suspension on a car. I love it. It's always a constant challenge that you have to complete, because well, then you're car-less. I think it's crucial for us to have some kind of a DIY mindset. Take it into your own hands and fix it, rather than paying someone an astronomical amount to do so. Sure, some stuff I just cannot do in my own driveway because I lack the tools, a lift, or it's just too dangerous to do on an amateur level, but I'd confidently say 80-90% of the work that gets done on my two cars, I do on my own. It saves me a HUGE amount of money and time. Yesterday, I took the entire front bumper off my Saab station wagon to replace a broken headlight ballast, repaired some slight-rust forming and changed out the batteries in my remote. It only took me a few hours and a fraction of what a dealership would charge you. It's fun to just experiment and take apart your car, to see all that goes into making those wheels spin. Later this afternoon, I'll be deep underneath my Camaro replacing suspension parts, with a Leinenkugel Summer Shandy in one hand.

But my knowledge isn't just for me. I tremendously love sharing my knowledge of cars with my friends, family and strangers. I've gone with people to buy cars, driven half-way across town in the middle of night to help someone change her flat tire, I've cleaned and hand-waxed other people's cars, replaced batteries. There's a reason I keep a tool kit in the back of my own ride. I love explaining/showing to people how to fix something or how something works on a car, because it helps them out.

So think about what set of knowledge you have to be grateful for, and share it with the world.

Have a perfect Sunday and cheers,

On the iPod...


Saturday, August 12, 2017

30 Days of Gratitude: Prompt 19

Hah, you know what sucks about adulting? Not being able to sleep in on weekends as late as you used to do when you were a youth. I fell asleep around 11pm the night before and hoped to sleep in, well, till at least 10am...nope that'd didn't happen and rarely does anymore. Wide awake at 7am, hey-o. But the plus side is that I've got a full Saturday ahead of me to enjoy. I got invited out to breakfast with three of my best friends at a joint in downtown Milwaukee called "Brunch." Three cups of coffee, blueberry banana pancakes, a flight of bacon (yes you read that  right) and all sorts of catching up, laughing and chatting. That's an appreciated way to start my weekend. I'm grateful for mornings like this one. Last night I decided to actually stay in and do a "Me Night." Turns out tonight is going to be the night filled with beer-y festivities and good people. A night to myself was very much needed after this past week as by Friday afternoon I was quickly running out of steam. I got home, made dinner and dedicated some time to some reflecting and refocusing. Temperatures crept down into the upper 40s last night and I had every single window open in my apartment. I sat at the table in front of my bay windows and kept writing away in my journal. Writing continues to be a hugely beneficial way to just relax and take whatever is storming around in your head and dissect it.

Have you ever had someone important in your life give you advice that really stands out to you, opens your eyes and then you immediately jot it down? Maybe you put it on a post-it-note that gets slapped to your front door or folded in your wallet, forcing you to always look or penned in on a page your journal. I talk with one of my best friends, Dan who now lives in Washington D.C., every week. It's something on my schedule I really look forward. For some eleven years now, since early high school, he's had my back. He's been ridiculously supportive, not afraid to call me out if I'm acting foolish or rash, encouraged and pushed me to do whatever it takes to be the best version of myself. I'm incredibly lucky to have him as a best friend. Anyway, we were talking a few days ago and he said this to me:
"Now is the time to take control, not to let it go. Escapism is the coward's way out. The weak person's way out. You are not a weak person so don't act like one." 
This piece of advice is golden. Pure, especially relevant gold. Reflect on that. 

On to today's prompt.

Day 19: What Book Are You Grateful For?

My favorite book is "Into the Wild" by adventure Jon Krakauer who also wrote "Into Thin Air," an intense recollection about the mountaineering disaster on Everest that happened in 1997. When I dive into a Krakauer book, I cannot put it down. I find myself rereading "Into the Wild," whenever I'm in need of a wanderlust inspiration boost. The first copy I bought of it, I picked up at a bootleg book store in Hoi Ann, Vietnam back in 2011. I remember paying under $1 USD for it and not being able to read some lines because the original paperback, was raggedly duplicated with a copy machine haha. When I returned to the states, I bought a proper, genuine version of it. The book today that I'm grateful of, is Paulo Coehlo's "The Alchemist.' One of my best friends, Chadd, recommended I read it as a pick-me-up. So I went last night and bought it at Barnes and Noble, poured my self a mug of tea, took a hot epsom salt bath and started reading it in the tub. Treat yo self.. I'm only about forty pages into it but I'm hooked. I've never had a book, this early in the game suck me in like this. It's like these pages are just clicking and so many times already, I've stopped, gone back and re-read a line of text and pondered about it. A few lines I adore?
"It's this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what's happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That's the world's greatest lie."
"Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own."
"It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting."
Gosh this book is good! I'm going to hammer-out some more pages before tonight's fun. I hope you have a perfect Saturday. 


Friday, August 11, 2017

30 Days of Gratitude: Prompt 18

I am so glad it's Friday. So, so, so, so glad. It's been a crazy (good kind of) busy week at work and I'm stoked for 4pm to hit and dive into an easy, deadline-less freedom for a few days. I can't help but daydream right now of going out and staying out late tonight with my best friends, sleeping in then waking up without hearing an alarm clock tomorrow morning, lazying around my apartment in sweatpants, cooking a big breakfast, opening all my windows and sipping hot coffee with music playing followed by a walk around Shorewood. That's pure Saturday morning bliss. What's on your schedule for the weekend? Hopefully all sorts of fun stuff. I just went through my cherished daily planner notebook I blogged about a few days ago and smiled when all I saw for the next few days are the names of the amazing people I get to spend time and talk with,  quality me time and enjoyable hobby-front things I'll have a chance to tackle. Now that I finally for the first time in almost four years, have a job that gives me off on weekends, my appreciation from 4pm Friday afternoon till 8am Monday morning has grown incredibly. I can finally build social life outside of work, something that since this past June 6, wasn't possible. It's for sure been one of those weeks though, where I'm just craving the loving company of my friends plus a few cold Deschutes Black Butte Porters or Lakefront IPAs, key word- craving. Liquid encouragement, right? Right.

Also, I'm seriously thinking about getting another tattoo. Very, very, very soon. It's either going to be another tree or something nature related. Maybe a cairn?

Day 18: What Tradition Are You Grateful For?

There are only 136 days until Christmas! Turns out there's a website that tracks that, shocker, right? Anyways, I can't wait for Xmas. I could care less about getting any kind of materialistic gift, hey Mom and Dad I really do mean it when I answer with "I don't need or want anything" when you prod me for gift ideas the last few weeks of December. The only gifts I need every Christmas are the opportunities to spend time with all of my friends and family members. Period. Those are the real, valuable presents. Skiing, ugly sweater parties, egg nog with Bailey's Irish Cream, Christmas music (yes I start listening as soon as I devour the last piece of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving dinner) and just no set-schedule whatsoever.  I'm pretty sure last time I checked, that I have five company holidays off around both Christmas and New Years (and Turkey day too!). Oh that will be such an epic, jolly few weeks of celebrating. Traditions are of paramount importance in our family and they come out in full-force during the holidays, especially Christmas. Every Christmas, our family traditions range from watching the classic, hilarious "Christmas Vacation" to going to mass Christmas Eve where my mother sings the most beautiful sounds I've ever heard. True fact and no shame- the one thing that makes me cry is hearing my mom sing. My dad every year cooks up this monstrous breakfast-for-dinner meal, otherwise known as heaven and then later on Christmas Day our dining room is the place of a very nice, formal family dinner. A laughter-filled game of "Lord of the Rings" Monopoly or Apples to Apples comes after. 

But the most important tradition to me, the one, immaculate tradition grateful for is when my father reads "The Night Before Christmas" to us all before bed. He's done it every, single, year since I've been born. We've used the same pop-up book of Clement Clarke Moore's story, though we're on I think our third or second replacement because, well...Santa gets a little tired after pulling a tab to make him fly up the chimney and he gets stuck. But it's the most sentimental thing to experience. We all sit in front of him in our living room, lights dimmed with our tree lit-up in color and ornaments and hear him narrate. He'll quiz us on what line is next or the order of the reindeer. On Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer....and that's all I know without resorting to Google. It's a simple, easy and sweet tradition that I look forward to every December 24. It's a tradition that means so much to my dad, so, so much. We never ask for a chance to read it because that's his thing he proudly does. It's a tradition I cannot wait to proudly do when I have my own family and kids. When we decorate our tree every year, after all the ornaments are up, broken ornaments swept from the floor, lights glowing, train circling around the bottom (I mean come on, you have to have a train)- my dad waits till we're all done and does another little tradition that I can see in his face year, after year, that he gets a sense of pride and happiness from. He quietly strings strands of tinsel on the tree. Just him, no one else in the room. It gives me the chills when I watch it. He told he his dad, once did it too when he was younger. It's honestly probably my favorite thing to watch, every Christmas.  


On the iPod...(because Dave Matthews Band always wins)


Thursday, August 10, 2017

30 Days of Gratitude: Prompt 17

There was a prompt 17 all ready and scheduled to be posted yesterday (Wednesday) but sometimes computers just, well, suck. So that post I finished somehow disappeared and isn't in my drafts folder on here. Lame. But hey, more writing isn't bad. I should be able to piece together a response at breakfast now before I get to my rainy commute. And go!

Day 17: What Touch Are You Grateful For Today? 

Work at the magazine the past four days has been intense. We're in between two deadlines for upcoming issues, I've been red-penning (editing) all sorts of submissions, shooting and editing photos in our studio and finalizing kits (different feature pieces of the magazine) to send-off to our art department. It's busy, busy, busy but it's the kind of busy I so enjoy. The prompt from yesterday brings calm to the storm. What touch am I grateful for? The touch of all the ridiculous holds on a rock wall. I started climbing three and a half years ago and it's since been one of the smartest life decisions I've made to engage in. Growing up, I sucked at pretty much all-things traditional sports. I can't catch or throw and my coordination is embarrassing haha. Rock climbing gave me this relief expression of "Finally, I have a sport I can actually get good at and be proud of."

When I started getting into climbing seriously, buying gear, a membership and dedicating myself to the sport- I was hooked. I use climbing, indoors and outdoors, as an escape from the daily grind, a chance to push myself physically and it's an open door to a whole new batch of best friendships. I think climbing is the best most incredible stress reliever. It's hard to explain through the punching of keys on a keyboard- but when you set your mind to finishing a hard route, breathing, focusing and going slow it's such a rewarding feeling when you grab that finishing hold at the top. I hit the climbing gym last night after work. There was a 5.10+ route at the gym with a set of petite, crimpy, finger-destroying black holds that I on-sighted (climb clean without falling for the very first time without any prior attempts or advice). And if you're not up-to-par on climbing lingo, I did this on an auto-belay which means that if one does get tired or falls, you come right down immediately rather than sitting their in the same spot if someone is belaying you. So in essence, an auto-belay throws a bit more challenge at you because you have to climb perfectly and efficiently otherwise you're done. When I clipped-in to my harness, chalked-up and started climbing, a familiar song came on over the gym's stereo and I instantly felt in my fullest, pure element of focus as I made my way delicately up the wall. I always tell people that when you're in the zone, 150% focused on your climb and you're climbing to a good song playing in your ears, it's like everything else in the world just takes a pause while you're roped-in. You'e slowly making your way up the wall in almost a synchronized dance motion. I killed the route and when I came back down from the top on my two-feet, I un-clipped, sat down to drink some water and quietly thought to myself... "That was solid." Climbing is a morale booster, a self-esteem builder. It's a skill-set and hobby I take so seriously. It's an activity I can set achievable goals and know right away if I'm behind, at them or ahead. There's always room for improvement with climbing and the self-motivation to get better, and better, and better at it fuels me. Climbing has changed my life for the better, it's something I will never, ever give up or stop doing. And I'm beyond grateful for getting into it during the spring of 2014, the amazing loyal friendships it's provided me with, the giant amount of confidence I've acquired from it and making this sport a life-long passion. Now I just need to keep buying more climbing gear...and figure out where to put it all in my apartment.


On the iPod...

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

30 Days of Gratitude: Prompt 16

I've been changing up a lot of things in my daily routine lately and the resulting feels have been remarkable. I'm proud of myself for it. For example, I've been consciously making a strong effort to distance myself from my phone and it's been incredibly relieving. As the night comes to a close, I plug in my phone to charge in a completely different room away from my bed.  Try it out. It just feels healthy to go to sleep and wake up without having that urge to grab it right away and inundate myself with whatever social media nonsense I could have possibly missed overnight. Don't worry best friends and family, I set-up my phone so that if there's an emergency in the middle of the night I'll be able to hear a few of you call. I've also been going on walks almost every day after work, taking advantage of this cool, new neighborhood I live in. Biking to places around me rather than wasting the gas. I've been reading more, writing more, erasing my kitchen and pantry of crappy, sugar-filled food. I gave up drinking for a month, had a few beers this past weekend and now am leaning back towards forfeiting that again. My daily water intake has jumped and I'm dedicating time each day to just sitting down, by myself and taking some 'Me Time' to reflect on things. I've been getting out with my best friends and family more, going for a walk on my lunch break daily, toying with my car hobby often, rock climbing harder. I've been meal prepping more and pushing myself at work to be the best I can be. But the most important action I've been taking, is stopping and looking at myself in the mirror, quietly, to realize and remind myself of own, great self-worth. That there are a lot of people who do really appreciate and love me for who I am and what I do for them. 

You can't just say you'll make life changes and then not follow through or commit to them. That's just not how that works in your inhibiting yourself from actually growing..

Day 16: What About Your Body Are You Most Grateful For? 

I strive to be fully transparent, forward and honest. So this prompt really got me reflective. It's a topic that I take personally and am actually a bit self-conscious of. It's kind of an open-ended question that could be boom...easily answered by saying this body part or that. But I'm grateful for my entire body, the exact way it is. Well, if my two-surgery-done right knee would be flawless that'd be ideal, but the way I am right, now, I'm grateful for it. 

Yes, I'm skinny, quite skinny to be honest. Not by choice but that's just how I am. Growing up I remember getting made fun of for being too skinny, whether it be in gym class, at the pool or even at summer camp. As I've gotten older, the making fun of eventually stopped to some point though there are still times today where I'll have relatives, friends or coworkers point it out or bring it up as a concern. There's a clear, distinct line between talking about it in a joking manner or not. For example, a few of my best friends have labeled me in our growing friend group the nickname of "Skinny Dude." I'm 100% okay with them saying that because they're purely just having joking fun and they're loyal, respect me for who I am and know that I am in fact, self-conscious about it. The phrases or words that literally make me cringe and shut-down instantly are when I hear "You're too skinny" or "Why are you so thin?" or "You're just skin and bones" or "You need to put some weight and bulk-up." And when I get asked the questions like "Have you lost weight, are you okay?" or "Are you eating?". My self-esteem and confidence immediately collapses, like a switch getting flipped. I'm not anorexic and I get massively offended when people ask me if I am. There are times, that my weight does change, fluctuating by as much as 15-20lbs depending on how busy I am, what activities I'm doing or if I'm just stressed out with life. I always eat, always. Have you ever seen me at breakfast time? It's my favorite meal of the day and I can easily eat four big pancakes, a bowl of fruit, two servings of cereal, toast, eggs, juice and coffee all in one sitting- effortlessly. I can also destroy a large bucket of movie theater, butter popcorn in like ten minutes. The truth is, I was born with a ridiculously high metabolism and burn off a lot of what I eat at each meal. I work out every day, whether it be biking, hiking, rock climbing, and you can bet that after almost every workout, I'm eating some kind of red meat and downing a whey protein shake. But even that doesn't help. I've just learned to live with it and accept it.

A few years ago, I dropped from 165 pounds down to 148lbs in less than a month. I remember going in and out of the clinic, seeing my doctor and having all sorts of blood work and tests done. Nothing was out of the norm and the eventual conclusion was that I have this thing called 'hyperthyroidism' which in easy translation means an extremely over--active thyroid that at times can cause rapid, sudden weight loss. I understood what I was told and continued about my daily life. Yes, it sucks horribly to have to get rid of all your clothes that don't fit you and even today, if I put on something that I bought recently that did fit me and it doesn't now fit me due to a sudden decrease in weight- I get bummed down and discouraged. It really, really, sucks. I keep an eye on my weight on a weekly basis, this up and down poundage isn't going to change anytime soon but I just have to be aware when it gets to that dangerously low level. This past fall, when I was in Iceland for two-weeks, I lost about 12 pounds. I was doing a huge amount of hiking and walking, and I was eating all the glorious food Iceland had to offer (the best lobster and hot dogs ever), but again, just being active with that high metabolism caused that weight drop. Yeah, would it be nice to have more defined muscles? Sure but I'm content and satisfied with me being toned the way I am, right now. But I don't need big, bulbous arms, pecs or a six-pack to be happy or compensate.

So yes, this is something I'm aware of and do struggle with day after day, but I push forward. I'd rather be who I am right now, the me I'm grateful for- in shape, active, eating healthy and able to constantly partake in my hobbies that I take so much pride in, like rock climbing, skiing, backpacking and hiking without feeling weak, sluggish or exhausted. And I'm proud of that.


On the iPod...

Monday, August 7, 2017

30 Days of Gratitude: Prompt 15

I'm half-way through this '30 Days of Gratitude' writing prompt challenge! Time is flying by and I'm a-okay with that. For the first time in years, I'm more ready for summer to be completely over and eagerly awaiting the start of fall. Fall fall fall! Fall! This summer truthfully hasn't been as enjoyable as I had hoped and overwhelmingly fast at times. I'm seriously craving fall's slowed-down, relaxed feels and mood. Bring on the cooler weather and loads of memorable traditions. I took my mom out to a nice dinner last night and we spent a few hours talking about life and its recent ups-and-downs. I'm very, very grateful for motherly advice. She's a constantly reminding me to keep my head-up, be the best I can be and dishes out whatever she can in order to help instill reassurance in me to continue moving forward. AND she even gave me a dish filled with her homemade casserole. Yessssss. Today's prompt question talks about something I'm thankful for every time the sun rises.

Day 15: What Sight Are You Grateful For Today?

I'm grateful that at the start of a new day that I get to see a clean, blank slate ahead of me. Every morning, I sit down with my planner and hash-out my day. It's one of my absolute favorite things that I do and I make it a priority right away. If I haven't taken the time to do this, my whole day then feels off.

First, the date gets jotted down, underlined and then I sit back in my chair and reflect on both what I want to do and need to do today. Wants versus needs. It's crucially important to separate the two and divide-up appropriate time for both. I've mentioned it on here a few times, that I'm a huge believer in fresh-starts and whether I've had the most flawless day before or the worst, writing down what I plan to accomplish at the beginning of a new day makes me truly happy. It keeps me motivated. I'll start by listing the norms; work from __AM to __PM, go rock climbing at __pm, take a walk at __PM after _____; then I'll fill-in the social fun stuff like call_____, stop by and see______, respond to ______'s text,  go to _____'s party, Skype with ______ or get coffee with_____. These are all things I can write down on that greatly appreciated, blank day's agenda in my planner and excitedly look forward to doing later on after work. This is how I like to get through my day. Plus, when I get to see the next week's empty schedule on Sunday night before heading to bed or on Monday morning, it opens the door for endless brainstorming of ways to plan-out the next six days ahead. I'll go back and refer to the personal goals and challenges I set in place and determine ways to incorporate those into my week. I'm grateful too that I get to see previous day's to-do items crossed off. Again, that sense of accomplishment.

Back to the wants versus needs concept. In particular, I'm grateful to see that in my planner for tonight, I've got nothing penned down apart for a quick rock climbing session and a few phone calls to make on my commute home. This rewarding sight means these two important words get to claim that open, evening space in my planner: 'Me Time.' I realized this last night after dinner, this morning waking up and commuting to work- that I am really craving some quality, quiet reflective 'Me Time' later on today. Do you ever get that feeling? That you just really need some time to yourself to recharge and refocus? As soon as I get home from the climbing gym, I'm packing my journal, laptop and headphones into my messenger bag and walking down to Oakland Avenue to call a cozy coffee shop home for the night. I'm on my lunch break now at work and counting down the hours until I can sit contently with a ceramic Colectivo mug of tea, as the sun goes down. Four....more....hours. I cannot wait.


On the iPod...(because my best friends and I were singing to this legendary throwback on Saturday haha)


Sunday, August 6, 2017

30 Days of Gratitude: Prompt 14

Happy Sunday! Here's another little video (click above to watch on YouTube or scroll down.

How's your weekend been? Mine has been nothing but relaxing and I've been able to spend some much-needed time back here around Milwaukee. Yesterday I helped a few friends move into new apartments and we all capped it off with a nice, sit-down meal and bonfire. Mark, that bbq chicken was on-point. So was the fire. By the way, I guess today is 'National Friendship Day' so shout-out to all you incredible people. Sunday's agenda thus far has been great. Starting with a superb rock climbing session at the gym and ending tonight by taking my lovely mother out to dinner at this restaurant called 'The Bay' to chat and catch up on life. After those splendid few hours with Mama DeGraff I'm looking forward to meal-prepping later and just watching some Netflix on the couch before that 5:30am alarm clock screaming. I'm almost half-way through this '30 Days of Gratitude' challenge and I wanted to make another video because the quick film I put together last week was a big hit.

Day 14: What Upcoming Challenge Are You Grateful For? 

I guess I need to start making more of these videos? That video post I did about what people in my life I'm grateful for drew a huge amount of readers to my blog so thank you! I also seriously appreciate the influx of positive comments about that video I had texted, told to me or messaged to me. Bits of praise like "It was so good to hear your voice!" or "We missed seeing you!" or "You really just glowed in happiness and it was awesome to see you open up like that!" or "Dude you've gotta make more videos like that." These videos are super easy to make and piece together and while the majority of these daily gratitude prompts can be somewhat simply answered with a paragraph or two of text, I like the opportunity to sit down in front of the camera and be straight-forward transparent about the more deep answers. Which brings me to responding to today's prompt, about challenges. Writing down, referring to frequently and then pursuing your goals or challenges is of paramount importance to me. Here's a three-ish minute video explaining why and a hint at an upcoming adventure I cannot wait for. You can either click directly below on the video and watch it on here, it's in 1080p HD! Click the 'View Full Screen' icon in the lower right hand corner or click that very first image/screenshot up above and it'll take you to it on YouTube

Enjoy, cheers and take some time tonight to reflect on what upcoming challenge you're grateful for~


Saturday, August 5, 2017

30 Days of Gratitude: Prompt 13

I've got my bay windows open, breakfast prepared, a hot cup of coffee at my side and some old-school hip hop playing through Pandora. Seriously, no-alarm weekends are the best. Last night a bunch of us went to the Hubbard Park Beer Garden which is my new favorite place. It was an evening full of catching-up, laughing, planning out fun stuff to do in the next upcoming months (which I'm so stoked for) and of course massive pretzels. The beer kept flowing and I brought my own towering stein to toast with. Somehow I ended up waking up in my bed at 5am with my shoes on? Not sure how I got home, into my apartment or what happened the rest of the night but alrighty haha, it was obviously a fun time and we all deserve a night like that every once in a while. That's what three beers (I later learned) will do to you after not drinking for month. Today's prompt! 

Day 13: What Song Are You Most Grateful For?

Do you have those songs that whenever they come on, you just crrrrrrrank up the volume? I definently do. Anyone who has either been in the car with me, out in public at a bar or party or even just at my apartment knows that if I hear one of my top favorite songs come on, I just light up in excitement. I'm pretty sure a few years ago I blew-out a speaker in my car blasting "Light My Fire" by The Doors. I've also gotten a knock on the door for having Mark Morrison's "Return of the Mack" playing too loud, I mean that song is legendary 90's hip-hop. No shame. So my three my top bands - in order- are Nirvana, Bob Marley and The Wailers and finally Coldplay. But my favorite song of all time isn't by any of them. This one song I'm very grateful for and thankful to have heard at the end of one of this spectacular movie called "Crash" is Stereophonics' "Maybe Tomorrow." Please, if you haven't seen "Crash," you need to watch it as soon as humanly possible. Stereophonics is a Welsh rock band that grew its roots in the early 1990s. 
This is a simple and beautiful song. What I love about this song is that its an instant pick-me-up tune to listen to. I play it both in good times and bad. I'll listen to it if I'm shaken to my very core, unsure or sad, yet I'll also listen to it when I'm feeling happy, proud or bittersweet about someone or something. When I hear this music, its wonderful calming lyrics, warm guitar strumming- it's honestly almost as if I'm getting a big, secure hug of reassurance that everything is going to be fine. This song continues to be there for me when I really need it and I always end up smiling through it. Truthfully, if I had to pick one song to listen to the rest of my life, it'd be this one. Take a read over the lyrics:
I've been down and
I'm wondering why
These little black clouds
Keep walking around
With me
With me 
It wastes time
And I'd rather be high
Think I'll walk me outside
And buy a rainbow smile
But be free
They're all free 
So maybe tomorrow
I'll find my way home
So maybe tomorrow
I'll find my way home
I look around at a beautiful life
Been the upperside of down
Been the inside of out
But we breathe
We breathe 
I wanna breeze and an open mind
I wanna swim in the ocean
Wanna take my time for me
All me 
So maybe tomorrow
I'll find my way home
So maybe tomorrow
I'll find my way home
Cheers and enjoy this Saturday,

The photo above? I do some of my best writing when I've got headphones in. That's another candid shot taken by my friend Giang when we were in Vietnam's lush Mekong Delta back in 2011. All of us stayed at a house on stilts built atop the delta. The stars were incredible and it was as if time just stopped. Oh how I miss laying in a hammock late at night, writing away in my journal while the delta's water splashed around below that creaky wood floor.

Friday, August 4, 2017

30 Days of Gratitude: Prompt 12

Happy Friday! It's 52 degrees outside and I used my heated seat driving into work this morning. Yesssss fall come here now, please. Bring on that season and its fullest glory. I want to start wearing flannels, hoodies and jeans. What do you all have going on this weekend? At breakfast I pulled out my daily planner notebook and started writing down all that's on the schedule for this coming Friday night to Sunday night. After being gone out of town the past two weekends, I'm so ready to be here, planted at home in Milwaukee. My to-do list hasn't shrunk so I'll finally have time to get caught up on a few things and I get to spend all sorts of awesome time with my best friends all weekend, starting with a rendezvous at a beer garden tonight just a short ten minute walk from my apartment (if that). Beer! Beer! Massive pretzels! Like I mentioned in the prompt from two days ago, I'm so, so, so grateful for my best friends. This past month they've all been tirelessly supportive, bringing calm, security and assurance to me when I've been really needing it. The daily calls, texts, hanging out face-to-face have all been powerful acts of loyalty and love. After a solid session rock climbing last night, I splurged on $2.00 tacos and beer at Bel Air with one of my best friends, Dan, who reminds me on the daily to keep my head up because "you are a good person." I'm beyond thankful for these heroic people. On to the prompt!

Day 12: What Holiday Are You Grateful For?

True fact about me, I love Halloween, it's my absolute favorite holiday. I geek out and celebrate it literally every day of October. But the holiday I'm thankful for the most, is Thanksgiving. Cliché right? So yes, Christmas is a very close second, but that week or so floating around Thanksgiving is an incredible, special time for me. AND this year I have both Thursday (the day Turkey day falls on) and Friday off. Boom, four-day weekend. For that week, my two younger brothers and I move into our parents house we grew up in and the whole DeGraff family is happily back under one roof again. It's also a holiday where I get to see many of my best friends that live outside of Wisconsin, who return home. Gosh I cannot wait for those hugs, nights out at the bars and reunions. It's August and I'm already getting invites to a few 'Friendsgiving' dinners (seriously the most amazing concept ever created) where we all dress up and spend an evening catching up and having a meal together. Sitting down at a big table surrounded by the best people in your life is a impeccable feeling that I cherish tremendously. Back at home, my parents spend a full-day preparing this monstrosity of a dinner. We light candles, eat and take turns going around the table where we each explain what we're thankful for. It gives me the chills, year after year, to hear and see how far each of us have come along and grown. Oh the food! Turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing (my favorite), corn, hot bread, pumpkin pie, wine....mother of God I'm hungry now. I don't eat that day until dinnertime and end up in a horrendous food coma for the next 24 hours afterwards. That's okay though, because per usual brotherly tradition, the three of us play drunken Mario Kart, Mario Party or Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64 until the wee-hours of the next morning. Our basement gets filled with explosive laughter and empty Leinenkugel bottles. Usually after dinner too, I'll post-up in front of the fireplace with my journal and write a "What I'm Thankful For" reflection. I do it every year. I ponder on the good things and the bad things that have happened to me the past year, because through some form of karma, I'm thankful for both. The bads always lead to the goods. Good karma comes around, bad karma comes around. Always be grateful for what gets thrown at you in life. 

Have an excellent weekend and start dreaming of turkey day, I know I already am. 


On the iPod...(because I've been on a huge underground, chill hip-hop run lately)


Thursday, August 3, 2017

30 Days of Gratitude: Prompt 11

Earlier this week I was really needing some fresh air and 'Me Time'. I was craving it all day at work and as soon as I got home, I packed up my messenger bag and walked east to a Colectivo coffee shop just down the street from me. The weather was perfect too, low 80s and plenty of sunshine. Gosh I love living in this neighborhood. I after comparing an chatting about tattoos with the barista, I walked out with mug of mint tea and snagged a table right alongside Oakland avenue. I pulled out my journal and pen and started writing. This month has been challenging on a few fronts but I'm going to pull through it and come out on top, I already am. My aforementioned messenger bag I sling across my shoulder has my alma-mater on it, Loyola University Chicago, and it caught the eye of a passerby which leads me to this awesome response to today's prompt! What happened was so good!

Day 11: What Texture Are You Grateful For? 

I'm grateful for the texture of a complete stranger's handshake, for real. One of the things I really like doing is engaging in full-on conversations with unknown faces. It's an ability I'm grateful for and I'm truly good at, just talking with an individual I've never, ever met before. I never hesitate and it never scares me to build up a few seconds of random confidence, take a leap and begin what are usually such high-quality and enjoyable conversations. I do it when I'm traveling, at the grocery store, when I'm on a walk, anywhere the situation presents itself. I've met some awesome, inspiring people by doing this, many of which I still keep in touch with today. Anyways, I was outside at a orange metal table in front of the Colectivo reading over a few texts of encouragement my best friends had fired off to me and journaling them down, when an older man with a white beard in his 70s walking by, stopped, came up to me and told me a joke. I laughed, shook out my hand and said "Thank you for that, I appreciate that. I'm Robby, what's your name?" His name was Jim. Jim's a retired international student admissions counselor who worked at Marquette University in Milwaukee. "You went to Loyola?" he asked me, pointing down at my black messenger bag on the ground slumped against my chair. "I did! I studied advertising, public relations and journalism," I answered back. Turns out he was a graduate from the class of 1966 and we immediately started comparing our college years. It was so much fun to hear different perspectives and our own testimonies of what life as a Rambler (Loyola Ramblers) was like in the 2000s and 60s. He pointed down at my journal, and asked if I were a writer, in which I went on to tell him about the magazine I proudly work for. I even had a copy of our latest issue with me I could show him. Jim was a writer too, having authored many articles and even books about international education. I was wowed when he started listing off all the countries he's spent time in, like Pakistan, China and even Iraq for a brief stint during the late 70s. He told me a story about how in some of these countries he'd have to be super silent when snapping photos because if the police or government official heard the sound of his camera's shutter click, he would have been arrested or deported...after his camera confiscated first. Wild. Remember growing up when our parents told us not to talk to strangers? About that.

As we were nearing the end of our golden, thirty-minute conversation, I asked Jim this, "So before you leave, I want you to give me three pieces of advice that I can write down in my journal." Here's the wisdom he left me with:
"Never turn down an assignment."
"Don't get into a rut, if you do, find a new groove immediately."                             "Don't be bashful, don't be a bragger, but let people know what you've accomplished."
We shook hands a final time, this time the handshake more firm and solid.


On the iPod...

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

30 Days of Gratitude: Prompt 10

Good morning! Guess what? There's a short video (you can click above!) for today's prompt and it's genuinely heartfelt.

Day 10: Who In Your Life Are You Grateful For? 

What's the answer? I have the absolute best group of friends in the world and I explain why when you click 'Play'.

Today marks ten days into this '30 Days of Gratitude' writing challenge I've been following so far. Each day I've put in the time to scratch-up a response to one of the daily prompts, I've gotten lots of super encouraging, fun and nice feedback. I look at the analytics for these posts and every day so far, there have been a few hundred people heading to my blog and reading each one of these posts, thank you! I seriously hope you also consider perhaps taking-on a similar challenge like this, so you can learn a little bit more about yourself and what you're grateful for. It's helped me grow. Honestly, ten days of reflecting has rewarded me with an incredibly positive experience and I can confidently say my overall morale and appreciation for certain things and people in life has skyrocketed. A few friends and family members who have been following along with my blog and enjoying these posts, suggested I do a video response to one of the daily prompts. I got a text the other day saying, "Do a video! We want to see you!" The last video I did on here was about my trip to Badlands National Park and I got quite a bit of great feedback on it. So why not change it up and make a video? Here it is, enjoy it! You can either click directly below and watch a few minutes on here, it's in 1080p HD! (though this blog's CMS isn't letting me embed it full-size, you should still be able to click the 'View Full Screen' icon in the lower right hand corner) or click that very first image/screenshot above and it'll take you to it on YouTube. The music is Bloc Party's "Blue Light."

Cheers and have such a good day,

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

30 Days of Gratitude: Prompt 9

Where did July go? August is here and I'm very happy it is. It's a clean-slate, fresh month. Honestly, when I left this morning and stood outside, I smiled. It also means we're inching closer and closer to fall, my favorite time of year. Have you ever gone for a walk late a night? Last night around 11pm, I took a walk through Shorewood, the neighborhood I live in. I love that I can just walk right out the door of my apartment and take stroll through the suburbs in the evening. It's quiet, calm and that cool night air feels so soothing while I take slow deep breaths, passing under the streetlights. I purposely left my phone sitting on my kitchen counter, where it then remained until I woke up this morning. Don't stay attached to your phone, 24/7 it's just unhealthy. Turn it off, or hide it every once in a while. We just spend so much of our lives relying on that tiny lit phone screen, take a pause for awhile. Before I fell asleep last night, I just sat in silence with a mug of tea, at my table in front of my flat's bay windows reading about Rocky Mountain National Park. Mmhmm to that. Yes, it's not the focus of today's gratitude prompt, but I have to give a quick shout-out thank you to my best friends. Yesterday on my way home from work and this morning while slaving-away in rush hour traffic to the office, I kept the radio off in my car and made/answered a few calls to/from some of the most important people in my life. Even at like 7am, I can have some of the highest quality, most honest and meaningful conversations with the people who love me and appreciate me for who I am. I'm just so grateful for moments like these. On to the prompt for day 9 of the '30 Days of Gratitude' writing challenge.

Day 9: What Place Are You Grateful For? 

There's a place called Matawa. It was a YMCA summer camp located north of Milwaukee in the sprawling Kettle Moraine State Forest. For fourteen years of my life, I spent a metric ton of time there both as a camper, counselor and then administrative staff up until the camp shut its doors for good in October 2014. Summer camp is hugely beneficial and helpful for one's one personal growth. When I was ten years old, my parents dropped me off at Matawa against my will. I did not want to be there at all and wanted to go home right away. Look how that changed. What I credit this incredible place doing for me are these three things: getting me outside and causing me to fall in love with nature, introducing me to some of the most inspiring and best of friends I've ever had and transforming me into who I am today. Let's start with the last praise. I would not be a confident, caring, honest, adventurous and humble person had it not been for the memories and times I had at Camp Matawa. I know that for a sure fact. Camp forces you to break-out of our comfort zone, shed your skin, open up and encompass yourself in whole new surrounding with new challenges, new people and new opportunities. I felt this way every time I pulled into N885 Youth Camp Road. I boast about the true power and magic, that Matawa has cast on me to strive to be a better person, day after day. The people I met at Matawa are some of the most important people I still hold close in my life today. Camp friends are a different kind of best friends. You're living with each other, helping each other through the ups, downs, stressors and moments of reward. You're teaching each other new things, going on adventures together and working as a team. Teamwork of course, makes the dream work. We all grew as leaders together, learning more about each other, supporting and opening up to each other about some of the most personal things, issues or struggles in our own lives. I've had some of the most outstanding life talks with my camp friends. You also create this firm, secure level of trust with one another. My camp friends helped me discover some of my true talents, things I should be proud of and bluntly called me out on things I need to change or do drastically different if I want to be the best I can be. I thank all of you camp folks for doing that, looking after me. Ask anyone who went to summer camp to describe their camp friends and when they start explaining that type of bond that's created, their face just lights up with joy. The last praise and reason I'm grateful for Camp Matawa is because I really do believe that it introduced me and sparked my love for the outdoors. At camp, we were always outside. Playing capture the flag, canoeing in the pond or attempting to make our way up to Mauthe Lake along the river, teaching kids wilderness survival way back in the woods, climbing the Alpine Tower under a bluebird sky. No joke, probably 95% of our days and nights were filled with time outside. I remember singing and hilarious skits campfires, closing ceremonies under the stars, pool parties ending with "Every Day" by the Dave Matthews Band, and watching the nightly sunsets just rage across the sky. Thanks Camp Matawa, for making me who I am today.

I'd give anything to be able to work at Camp Matawa again and have it re-opened.


On the iPod...

Monday, July 31, 2017

30 Days of Gratitude: Prompt 8

Happy Monday! I hope all of you had a splendid few days over the weekend of R&R. I felt so refreshed waking up this morning. I guess going to bed by 10pm will do wonders. Here's to the start of a new week with new challenges and opportunities. The weekly to-do list in my planner is filling up quickly with all things work and fun. Quick shout-out though, to my best friends who continue to support me, give me hugs and a shoulder to cry on, dish out loads of jokes and call me out when I'm not being my real me or if something is up. I love you all. So I had to change up the order of the prompts for this '30 Days of Gratitude' writing challenge I'm following, because today's scheduled prompt talks about a book I'm grateful for...and said book that I really wanted to pull lines from, is at my apartment. Stay tuned for that coming later this week. Therefore here's the substitute from a different date. And I think it's a pretty good one.

Day 8: What Abilities Are You Grateful For?

I take a ton of pride in the fact that I have the ability to forgive and love people for who they are. You cannot go about your everyday life holding grudges or containing inside you, these clouds of judgement and anger against people. You cannot grow and be a positive, strong person by living vicariously through past slumps and moments that brought you down. I'll be straight honest, up until maybe three or four years ago, I had the hardest time moving forward and away from the people that did or said things to bring me down, discourage or hurt me. Whether it be in situations between friends, relationships, family or the workplace. And gosh workplace politics can be horrendously violent at times. I used to let it bog on me, make me feel weak and worthless but then I started realizing that it was just a waste of time, energy and it was just annoying. I learned that you have to accept that that past baggage did in fact happen but also move forward and do everything in your waking power to forget it and stay fresh. I remember four years ago at my first job out of college, I worked for a manager who was almost on the daily, demeaning me and treating me like I was a useless spec of dust. It was incredibly unprofessional and rude, and there were so many days when I'd get home after commuting for two-hours from Chicago that I'd draft-up a two-weeks notice. It was such a toxic environment and it killed any kind of self-esteem and confidence I had. Those toxic vibes trickled into my personal life and started affecting everything outside of work. I was miserable and felt that way for a long time. It took me a few years to recover from that, but I realized that people make mistakes. Sometimes people act out of character. Everyone has done it at some point, including myself. One of my favorite quotes reads (there are a few variations) along the lines of "Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." This is so true. We all struggle with something internally and while some of it can be visibly seen and noticed, some of it stays buried deep inside you. I as a person remember that mindset constantly. I'm a person who will never judge someone as a result of something they're trying to recover from or fix.

I don't 'put up' with people. That's such a negative connotation. I hate that saying. Rather I proudly and tirelessly absorb, understand and love them for who they are. That's what I do. We're all different, we all have different quirks and we all have to love each other. There've been times over the past couple years I've been tremendously hurt by someone or faced some inexplicable form of betrayal. Times when I've had friends and family call me out and tell me to walk away, quit or cut it off. But that's not what I do. But the pain is temporary, only temporary because immediately once some rut or incident happens, I seek out the very best in someone when they're at their worst. And I can always find it, forgive and move forward. It may not be easy, and it may not be immediate, but that's what I always do. It's how you come out on top and become the bigger, better and stronger person. Always, always forgive. That's something I do that I'm grateful for and the people who appreciate and respect that I do this, I'm so grateful for you.

Cheers and have a great day!