5 Reasons Why You Should Watch Bollywood

For almost as long as I can remember I’ve had a special fascination with India.  I’m not sure how it started, but I do remember reading a lot of books about other countries & cultures, including India, as a child.  (Yes, I was & still am a real nerd.)  In fact, as I may have mentioned on this blog before, I remember determining as a kid that I was going to marry an Indian man when I grew up.  This is pretty hilarious considering I grew up in a town with maybe one, and I do mean one, Indian family.  (As it turns out I married a white man, just for the record.)  Anyway, three years ago when I graduated from nursing school & first started working night shift, I discovered Bollywood films on Netflix.  One night when I was up late with nothing much to do, I just decided to watch one.  I honestly don’t remember which movie I watched first or why that particular one intrigued me enough to give it a try, but in any case I’ve been hooked on Bollywood ever since.  Here are five reasons why you should be too.Taj Mahal

  1. The music: Indian music is very different than Western music. Rhythmically & stylistically it’s just a whole different world.  But it’s beautiful!  Nevermind the fact that the lyrics rarely translate well into English, the music itself is just gorgeous.  I know some people can’t understand the idea of listening to music in a language you don’t understand, but sometimes I think it’s easier to really appreciate music for exactly what it is when you aren’t distracted by the actual words (if that makes any sense).
  2. The dancing: Going in hand in hand with the music, Bollywood films are often filled with lots of dancing. If you don’t like Western musicals, this might initially be a turn-off, but I implore you to give these movies a try anyway.  Indian dancing is very different than Western dancing, although you can definitely see elements of Western influence from time to time.  There are certainly plenty of Indian films that contain very little or no dancing, other than perhaps during the credits at the end, but most do have at least one or two dancing scenes.  Yes, the music & dancing contribute to the fact that most Indian films are 2-2.5 hours long, but trust me, you won’t even notice the extra length because of how fascinating the music & dancing are.bollywood dance
  3. The gorgeous people: Bollywood films are quite literally a feast for the eyes. Both the men & women are just drop-dead gorgeous.  While the female stars are definitely on the skinnier side, I can’t help but notice that they are not as skeletally thin as most Hollywood actresses.  To me this contributes to them being even more beautiful.  If you’re not yet convinced that you should give Bollywood a try, run a quick Google image search on a few of these names & you might change your mind: Shahid Kapoor.  Imran Khan (the younger one).  Arjun Kapoor.  John Abraham.  Ranveer Singh.  Shushant Singh Rajput.  Anushka Sharma.  Sonam Kapoor.  Kareena Kapoor.  Vidya Balan.  Parineeti Chopra.  Priyanka Chopra . . . See what I mean? jab we met
  4. The stories: Bollywood is probably most famous for romantic films but there are plenty of comedies, thrillers, & horror films as well, even sci-fi. I tend to stick with mostly romances or romantic comedies, but regardless of the genre these people really know how to tell a story.  Yes, the stories are spun a bit differently than most Hollywood films, but that is exactly what makes them so fascinating.  I don’t know about y’all, but Hollywood rarely impresses me anyway.  As a side note, I’m definitely not the first person to observe that Bollywood films contain considerably less sex than American films.  While I don’t necessarily have a problem with sex in movies & there are plenty of Bollywood films that do include sex, I also appreciate the way that Bollywood films somehow make even a hug extremely sexy.  Quite often there isn’t even a kiss until the very end of the movie, but trust me there is no lack of chemistry in Bollywood, far from it indeed.  (I’m sure the dancing contributes to this somewhat.)arjun kapoor 2
  5. The fascinating culture: Perhaps the most compelling reason to watch Bollywood films is that learning about a different culture is just plain fascinating & so much more rewarding than watching movies about your own culture. I’m sure there are plenty of things I miss in these movies because I don’t understand more than a handful of Hindi words, but the sub-titles are more than sufficient to help me understand the stories.  Additionally watching movies in a different language forces you to realize how much communication & human interaction are influenced by things other than the exact words people say.  While I appreciate the fact that Bollywood provides only a small glimpse into real Indian life & culture, just as Hollywood is far from a perfect picture of American/Western culture, I still find this glimpse into Indian culture fascinating.  I won’t pretend that I like everything I see because it’s quite apparent from watching these movies (& reading various articles) that there are some serious societal problems in India, particularly the stark contrast between the wealthy & the poor & the treatment of women.  But it’s not like Hollywood doesn’t reveal a lot of serious problems with American culture too.

To get you started, I’m including a list of ten of my favorite Bollywood films, many of which can be found on instant on Netflix.

  1. Jab We Met: This romance centers on a couple who meets on a train & is probably my all-time favorite Bollywood moviejab we met 2
  2. Dil Bole Hadippa: This romantic comedy about a woman who joins an all-male cricket team has a Twelfth Night vibe. You do NOT need to understand cricket to understand this movie, by the way.  This film also has a LOT to say about the state of women in India.dil bole hadippa
  3. Ishaqzaade: A romance/thriller with a Romeo & Juliet vibe that contains electrifying music aside from the thrilling story/romanceishaqzaade
  4. Band Baaja Baaraat: A romantic comedy that centers on the wedding-planning industryband baaja baaraat
  5. Shuddh Desi Romance: This romance examines commitment, live-in relationships, & the push for early marriage in India & how all of this affects the current generation of 20-somethings.shuddh desi romance
  6. Mere Brother Ki Dulhan: In this romance, a man sets out to find a bride for his brother only to fall in love with her himself.mere brother ki dulhan
  7. Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu: A couple meets & gets married in Vegas while drunk . . . The next morning they’re horrified to find what they’ve done. But what happens when one of them starts actually falling in love?ek main aur ekk tu
  8. Bewakoofiyaan: This romantic comedy focuses on the hardships of romance in a less than stellar economy & is extremely relevant to all 20-somethings today. Also the girl’s father is just plain hilarious.Bewakoofiyaan_Poster
  9. Kaminey: This thriller stars Shahid Kapoor playing identical twins with vastly different personalities & life choiceskaminey
  10. Wake Up Sid: In this romance, an unmotivated young man moves in with a female friend & is inspired to transform his life.wake up sid

Best Hand/Face Cream Ever: Windrift Hill Goats N’ Oats

Last week’s post was very serious & deep so this week I thought I’d post something a bit more light-hearted & fun to even things out a little.

nubian goats

While in Montana, I came across the best hand/face cream ever.  After hiking 11+ miles at Glacier National Park, my husband & I stopped at a gift shop on our way out of the park, & it was there that I first encountered Windrift Hill’s products.  Windrift Hill is a Nubian goat farm in North Central Montana run by an occupational therapist & her family (see http://www.windrifthill.com/aboutwindrifthill.html).  They make lotions, soaps, & body butters from goat’s milk.  At the gift shop at Glacier National Park I came across a number of these products & immediately fell in love with the fresh, clean scents.  Unfortunately they only had a sample of my favorite scent, the Goats N’ Oats.  I was reassured by the staff at the gift shop that these products are easy to find in gift shops all across Montana so I decided to just keep looking elsewhere.  On our very last night in Montana my husband & I checked out a gift shop just up the street from the cabin in which we were staying in Cooke City, Montana (just outside Yellowstone).  Lo & behold, there was the sacred Goats N’ Oats body butter!  All of the Windrift Hill scents are pleasant, but the Goats N’ Oats, made with almond essential oil, strikes me as the most pure, simple scent of them all.  As my husband is allergic to many fragrances & my own asthma is often triggered by strong fragrances, this was a win-win for both of us.

As it turns out my husband & I have both ended up using this body butter.  In fact I just ordered a 2 lb tub of the stuff as a Christmas gift for both of us!  My husband has found it works very well as an alternative to beard oil.  And we both love it for our hands.  (As a nurse I ALWAYS have dry hands from frequent hand-washing.)  I have a tendency to get very dry skin in the winter, especially around my nose & the corners of my eyes.  Last year the corners of my eyes got so dry, red, & irritated that it was literally painful.  This year thankfully I have Goats N’ Oats body butter to help combat/prevent that.

Sorry this picture is slanted but I swear this really is the best hand/face cream ever!

Sorry this picture is slanted but I swear this really is the best hand/face cream ever!

Fortunately you do not have to be anywhere near  Montana to order Windrift Hill products.  They have a great website where you can order their products (http://www.windrifthill.com/).  I would suggest starting with the 4 oz size to see which scent you most prefer.  As I said, all of the scents I encountered at the gift shops in Montana were great.  But the Goats N’ Oats is definitely my favorite.  And most importantly it really is great for dry skin, even on the face.  Try it & let me know what you think!


Ferguson, Race Relations, & My Own Journey Towards Racial Equality

In light of the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri & the various & sundry posts related to these events that I’ve read on Facebook in the past few days, I’ve decided to write what will certainly be one of my most difficult blog posts to date.  I am by nature a very introspective person meaning, like most things I observe in life, the events in Ferguson have stimulated me to examine my own beliefs & prejudices.  This is a difficult post for me to write & will be even more difficult to actually share because it will involve a brutally honest account of my own evolution in attempting to rid myself of racial/ethnic/cultural prejudices.  I hope that my honesty will encourage you, my readers, to do the same.ferguson riots

As some of you may know, I grew up in a very small town in a rural area of Virginia.  The county is about 76% white, 23% black, & 1% everything else (that 1% is mostly mixed race or Hispanic, while there are literally a handful of Asian families in the county, & I do mean literally a handful).  My mom is a teacher & I credit both her & my dad for raising me to have respect for people of all races, religions, ethnicities, & cultures.  However, I cannot pretend that I grew up completely free of racial prejudice . . . Far from it, to be completely truthful.

First let me explain a bit about race relations as they were at the time I grew up in my hometown.  Keep in mind that these are just MY personal experiences & others who grew up in the same small town may very well have had different experiences . . . but I’d be willing to bet many will agree with my observations.  As a child, I quickly realized that the black kids & white kids “naturally” separated.  There was certainly some overlap, but in general kids separated into friend groups based largely on race.  It’s just the way things were.  (Bear in mind that many of us grew up with parents, & certainly grandparents, who attended segregated schools, at least through middle school.)  In high school I also began noticing how rare it was to see a black student involved in art, drama, or band or taking honors/AP classes.  It’s not that it was unheard of, but it was clearly outside the norm.  The few black students who did partake in these activities quite often had mostly white friends & I distinctly remember overhearing other black students refer to them as “not really black.”  I was horrified then & I’m even more horrified now because I realize how symptomatic such comments were of a larger societal phenomenon that is wreaking havoc on our culture.  After all, such comments imply that black people aren’t supposed to participate in fine arts or higher education . . . which is just ludicrous.  Lastly, let me just mention that at football games & other such big events it was very common to see both kids & adults separated into groups almost exclusively based on race.  I hope all of this gives you at minimum a murky idea of race relations in my hometown, at least as I experienced them.  (To anyone from my hometown who reads this & may resent me for “making us look bad,” please consider that glossing over these issues does nothing to help us solve them.)racial equality

Truthfully, the further along I got in school, the more uncomfortable I became with many of my black classmates.  This was largely due to a series of unfortunate incidents in which a few black girls were mean to me . . . I still remember being in high school & sometimes being afraid to go to my locker because a certain group of black girls who had lockers near mine would try to keep me away from my locker & taunt me by saying “this little white girl want to get her books” & other such things that quite literally frightened me.  Going back as far as primary school I remember a few older black girls who continuously made fun of my sister & me on the bus & often referred to us as “them little white girls.”  I’ve always been an introspective person & I remember hating myself for feeling afraid of or uncomfortable around most black people in my community because of repeated incidents like this.  I didn’t WANT to be some prejudiced Southern bigot.  I wanted to accept & love everyone & not even think about people’s race, whether they be black, Hispanic, Asian, or anything else.  But I was continuously confronted with incidents that made that incredibly difficult.

In any case, I attended college in the mountains of SW Virginia & there was not a large black population at my university.  However, there was definitely greater racial & cultural diversity than there had been in my hometown.  While at college I immediately noticed that regardless of race the students I met were by & large intelligent, articulate, kind, & hard-working.  As a result, I began to feel more & more comfortable with black students (as well as students of other races, but I had never had any negative experiences with other races because, as I explained earlier, there just weren’t enough other minorities around in my hometown), & I began to understand that it wasn’t so much their race that made me uncomfortable around many of the black people with whom I was raised.  Instead it was their culture, a culture largely founded on poverty, broken families, poor education, & a society that had historically been very unkind to them.  I also realized that I had been equally uncomfortable around a large portion of the white kids I grew up with.  And the reason for that was that their culture too was largely based on the exact same negative things (poverty, poor education, & broken families), minus of course the historical racial prejudices.Black-Poverty-2012-Statistics-chart

Just over a year after I graduated from college, my husband & I moved to the Raleigh-Durham area of NC.  Once here I was thoroughly gratified to live in a truly multi-cultural area for the first time in my life.  I quickly realized how much more vibrant & interesting it is to live in an area with people from literally all around the world.  My husband & I both work with people from almost every race on the planet, & while our neighborhood is probably over 50% white, there is definitely a significant black population as well as a fair amount of Asian & Hispanic families.  (In fact, there are several communities just a few miles from us that are sometimes called “Little India” or “Little China” because of the significant Indian & Asian populations there.)  Furthermore I am somewhat ashamed to admit that it took me months of living here to get used to the fact that I routinely see black people driving BMWs, Mercedes, & many other much nicer cars than I will probably ever own.  (Those kinds of symbols of wealth were rare for white people in my hometown, but they were nigh unheard of for African Americans.)    Additionally I began to realize how common inter-racial relationships are in this area & how I no longer gave such relationships a second thought or glance.  I also can’t help but smile every time I go to the mall or walk around my neighborhood & see kids of different races playing together peacefully.  To be clear, I LOVE seeing these things.  I LOVE being reminded that the society in which I grew up wasn’t normal.  Or at least it isn’t how things HAVE to be.diverse kids

Perhaps most importantly I realized after being here a few months that I no longer felt uncomfortable around black people.  I distinctly remember eating lunch in the break room at work one night with three of my African American coworkers.  They were already in the room when I came in to eat my lunch & I never thought twice about whether I should sit down & join them (as I certainly would have done in high school).  I just pulled up a chair & started talking with them just like they were anyone else (because they really ARE just like anyone else).  And it was quite obvious that none of us felt uncomfortable.  It was awesome!  I thought almost nothing of the situation at the time, but being the introspective person that I am I thought of that lunch later & realized just how significant it really was in light of my vastly different childhood experiences.

I also realized, as difficult as it was to accept, that I was part of the problem in my hometown (& in our larger society) in that I allowed my own fear & discomfort to hold me back.  To be more precise, I allowed it to build walls between me & the black kids around me.  I entered the equation thinking we were too different to possibly connect on a real level; thus I didn’t even give it a fair shot.  Furthermore I realized that as adults our behavior is our own responsibility & none of us can blame race alone for anything.

However, I also began to understand how many real obstacles there still are for black people in America.  For example, the Trayvon Martin case in Florida & dozens of other situations that are even clearer make it extremely obvious that we have a real problem with police brutality in this country & that sadly it is largely aimed at black men.  Unfortunately fifty years after MLK’s “I have a dream” speech, we haven’t come as far as we ought to have.  The case in Ferguson seems to me to be a bit more complicated in that it appears that the police officer did have a legitimate reason to be afraid of Michael Brown, though I don’t feel like I know enough about the case to say whether using deadly force against him was truly justified.  And that really isn’t the point of this post.MLK I have a dream

The point of this post is that such horrible events need to make each & every one one of us evaluate our own prejudices.  And we also must realize that the violence & looting that is currently going on in Ferguson is exactly the wrong reaction to these kinds of situations.  It’s not that I don’t sympathize with the anger, bitterness, & disappointment that many in the African American community in Ferguson (indeed the whole nation) are feeling at this time.  However, burning down stores & terrorizing public & private property does absolutely zero to advance the cause of justice or true racial equality & understanding.  All it really does is reinforce negative stereotypes that only serve to perpetuate racial tension between the people of this country.  As a simplified but practical example, consider this: if a girl is called a slut, no matter how unjustified that may be, if the girl proceeds to go out & have sex with every guy she knows, her actions are only giving evidence to the original accusation.  I realize this case is far more complicated than that . . . But the fact of the matter is that the African American community is facing some serious issues right now, all of which are multifactorial & none of which has an easy solution.  Higher rates of poverty, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, HIV, absentee fathers, imprisonment, & other such issues cannot be solved overnight.  (To be clear these are not “black people problems.”  They are societal problems that impact all of us, but it’s certainly worth noting that these problems are disproportionately present in the black community.)violence dalai lama

But these problems also won’t be solved by violent rioting & looting.  Neither will they be solved by simply blaming the system or giving up hope.  The only way they’ll ever be solved & the only way we’ll ever reach true peace between the races, black, white, & everything else, is if we each do our part to be as free of prejudice as we can & to each live the best, most uplifting life we can.  And the only way to free ourselves of prejudice is to start with some serious introspection.  Yes, it will be hard.  Yes, it will make you uncomfortable.  And yes, there are times when you will not like what you find within your own soul.  But none of us can ever change until we confront our own demons.  Furthermore one of the best ways to combat prejudice is to live a life that proves all the negative stereotypes wrong.  Sure, there will always be people who are racially prejudiced & will never change their minds, but they are the minority.  As more & more kids are raised to believe that all races truly are equal & worthy of love & respect, those kind of narrow-minded people will certainly become the true minority.

Lastly, never forget the power of a smile or a simple kind word or deed.  For example, next time you see a black man on the street, consider all the negative stereotypes working against him.  Consider all the times people have crossed the street to get away from him.  Consider how many women in this country automatically feel less safe around him simply because of his race even when they know absolutely nothing about him.  Instead of crossing the street or simply looking away, greet him with a smile & a nod.  Acknowledge that he is every bit as human as you are.  This is how true change can start.

MLK love

I never thought I was truly racist growing up, but I know I’m a better person now for forcing myself to face my own prejudices & rid myself of them as best I can.  I’m by no means perfect, but I’m trying every day to be better, & that’s what matters.  I know this was long, but honestly there is so much more I could say.  I hope you’ve stuck with me & been inspired in some small way to examine your own prejudices & to go out & make the world a better place for people of all races.

And to all the African Americans (& anyone else) I’ve ever unfairly judged or to whom I’ve somehow unjustly shown prejudice, I offer my sincerest apologies.  I know I’ve been part of the problem in the past, even if I didn’t realize it at the time, but this is my pledge to work toward being part of the solution.

Love & peace to all.  I will end with a quote from the wise man himself, Martin Luther King, Jr.

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.  Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.  Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.  Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate.  In fact, violence merely increases hate.  So it goes.  Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.  Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

25 Things I’ve Learned By Age 25

I’ll be 26 in a few weeks, & lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how much I’ve learned about life in the 25 years I’ve been alive on this planet.  I’ve read a lot of articles lately with similar titles to this one, & I’ll admit I kind of hate myself for jumping on the bandwagon so to speak by writing this.  But I really do think I’ve learned some valuable lessons in my first quarter century of life, & I’d like to share some of those today.  Most of them are fairly serious, but some of them are more light-hearted & will hopefully make you laugh.  Let me be clear & say that I fail over & over in following some of these things.  Many lessons in life we have to learn over & over again because none of is perfect.  After all each & every one of us is a work in progress, & that’s as true for me as for anyone else.

These are in particular order.

  1. There is no one right path for everyone. I for one grew up with a very black & white view of the world; in other words, a world that was full of moral absolutes.  But as I’ve grown up I’ve realized how woefully inadequate such a paradigm is for a world as complicated as this one.  I’m by no means saying that I don’t believe in any sort of moral structure, but what I do mean is that most of life is really shades of grey.  Every situation is unique & different & there are very few things in life that fall under the category of “always right” or “always wrong.”  This really isn’t as scary as it may initially sound.  In fact it is just the only logical way of viewing life on this vastly complex planet.  Once you’re grasped this concept it is much easier to understand that the right path for someone else may be very different than the right path for you.  More often than not, neither of you is right or wrong, better or worse, only different.  And that is ok.Dalai lama quote
  2. Money in & of itself doesn’t bring happiness . . . but having enough to meet your needs & at least a few wants is a huge step towards finding contentment in this life. In other words, becoming a millionaire isn’t a guaranteed shot at happiness, but working hard & ensuring that you can take care of yourself & your family is most definitely a worthy goal.  Greed can & does lead to a great deal of evil in this world . . . But so does poverty . . . Consider that the most violent, dangerous areas of this country, indeed this world, are often the poorest.  This leads directly into my next point . . .
  3. Everything in moderation really is a great standard to follow in life. Now obviously there are a few exceptions to this rule, as some things really ought to be avoided altogether (like heroin, for example).  But for the vast majority of things in life moderation really is the best road to follow.  For example, despite what I believed growing up, I now understand that it is perfectly possible to drink in moderation.  (And there is no reason to think doing so is wrong.)  Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with eating ice cream or other sweets every once in a while, but doing so every day will likely not end too well.  As another example, sex is awesome, but for a number of fairly obvious reasons, it’s clearly best to limit the number of people with whom you do it.  In the end, most things in life really are best done in moderation.  Sadly our society has lost sight of this in regard to a lot of things, which is why we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic as well why we have an epidemic of college students who drink themselves to the point of oblivion every weekend.   If only we understood moderation . . .
  4. Dogs really are man’s (& woman’s) best friend. Forget diamonds or money or beer.  Dogs provide companionship & love that just can’t be beat.  I personally believe corgis are the best, but really any breed will do.  I didn’t grow up with dogs so when we first got Chaucer I couldn’t believe the difference in my mood just from having a dog around the house all the time.  They really are amazing.  I’m determined to never be without a dog again for the rest of my life.

    Me cuddling with our adorable Welsh corgi, Chaucer  :)

    Me cuddling with our adorable Welsh corgi, Chaucer :)

  5. When you hand someone cash, make sure that the bills are in order from greatest to least (greatest on bottom, least on top) & that all the bills are facing in the same direction (faces up, bills not upside down).  This is just the proper way to handle cash.    If you don’t do it this way the OCD & mildly OCD people of this world, like me, will want to smack you.
  6. Approach everything with an open mind. Sometimes the things you dread the most in life will turn out to be the things you love the most.  And sometimes the things you think you’ll love end up being dull, boring, or just plain miserable.  For example, I can’t tell you how much I dreaded working night shift.  But over three years later I now love it.  I probably won’t want to do it for another 30 years (because it is hard), but for right now it’s perfect for me.  I also went into nursing school thinking I wanted to be an OB nurse because it sounded fun & happy . . . Then I got to OB clinical & realized I was bored & disinterested . . . Instead I found that I loved geriatrics & hospice, things I always thought I’d hate.  Go figure.
  7. When someone is suffering, the best thing you can do is just be there for them. As tempting as it may be, don’t offer advice (unless specifically asked), & don’t try to make the suffering person see the positive side of everything.  Doing so just implies that you are making light of their suffering.  All any of us ever really wants (& needs) to hear when we’re really suffering is just that someone cares & understands that what we’re experiencing is really hard for us.  That’s it.  I’ve been amazed time & time again at how positively people (patients as well as friends & family) respond to a few simple words such as “I’m so sorry you’re going through this right now.  I know it must be really difficult for you.”
  8. Nothing in life is perfect all the time. You will fight with your best friend sometimes.  Your husband (or wife) will sometimes make you irrationally angry.  Your job will sometimes frustrate you so much that you will want to quit.  Your kids may make you question why you ever had them.  There will be days when in fact you question your very existence.  At the end of it all, we just have to find the people & things worth suffering for, the ones who make the bad days worth enduring.  I hope this doesn’t sound excessively pessimistic because I don’t mean it that way.  I’m just being realistic & admitting that life is never perfect.  The sooner we realize that, the sooner we’ll stop being disappointed over the fact that our lives aren’t the fairy tale we think they ought to be.  And we’ll start to understand that the grass really isn’t greener on the other side of the fence.  It’s greenest where you work the hardest & appreciate it the most.
  9. Don’t marry someone who isn’t your best friend. After all, with whom else would you want to spend the rest of your life?  Relationships aren’t half as complicated as most people make them out to be.  Which leads directly into my next point . . .marriage best friend
  10. If a man really loves you, you’ll know it. If he doesn’t, you’ll always be wondering.  (Thank you, James M. Sama, for this wonderful quote.)  Actions really do speak louder than words.  Anyone with enough money can buy you flowers or take you out for a fancy dinner.  But if he doesn’t support your dreams & goals, challenge you to be the best version of yourself, spend time with you even when you’re not at your best, & be there for you during all the best & worst moments of your life, then you need to move on to someone who will.  If a man really likes you & is interested, he WILL call you.  He WILL make specific plans to see you.  And he WILL respond to your texts.  This is really just common sense.  (By the way, I believe all of these things also hold true with the genders reversed.)
  11. Go to as many concerts as you can. I’m not suggesting you spend every penny of your savings on this, but you seriously should not miss out on the ones that are really important to you.  If they’re cheap &/or you can afford it, go to a few with friends even if the bands don’t interest you that much.  You never know when you will discover a new favorite band that you’d never heard of before.  It’s definitely happened to me.  And the only concerts I’ve ever regretted are the ones I’ve missed out on attending.

    eric church concert

    I’m going to see Eric Church for a third time next month . . . And I can’t wait!

  12. Read as much as you can. There is no better way to broaden your horizons & open your mind.  And there is no better way to escape from the humdrum of daily life.  Reading will make you smarter, more articulate, & more well-rounded.  Just do it.
  13. On a related note, be suspicious of anyone who doesn’t read at least a little bit for pleasure or who isn’t passionate about at least one kind of music. There is just something seriously wrong with these people.  If nothing else, they are incredibly boring.  Sorry, I’m not sorry.
  14. If you don’t like how your life is going, start making different choices. As adults there is no one else we can blame for our own mistakes or circumstances.  No, we can’t control everything that happens to us, but we can control how we react to it.
  15. Do the best you can with what you have where you are. (Thank you, Teddy Roosevelt, for that brilliant quote.)  I built my senior salutatorian speech around this quote, & I find it just as relevant now as I did seven years ago.  We’re all born into different circumstances & it goes without saying that some of us are given unfair advantages & disadvantages to start out with in life.  But if we make the best of what we have, it’s amazing how far we can go, no matter how meager our beginnings may be.teddy roosevelt
  16. Life isn’t fair. The sooner we come to terms with this, the sooner we can make peace with the injustices of life & work to make the world a better place.  We will never understand the reason some things happen, but that doesn’t change the fact that they happen.  For example, young people suffering from terminal illnesses is horrible & completely unfair.  But if we spend our time obsessing over the unfairness of it, we’ll never be able to help these people.  I volunteer with hospice because I know that people are suffering & dying whether I’m involved or not.  But I enjoy working with people & their families at the end of life, & if I can do even a few small things to make the process more bearable, I’m happy to do it.
  17. The best music is rarely on the radio. Go to YouTube & play around for a while.  Go to live concerts & discover new bands.  If you want to listen to something more interesting than songs about incessant partying, drinking, & dating, you have to work for it (sadly).
  18. The best food in the entire world is Indian food. Curry is the answer to all boring recipes.  Just try it.  (If you’re in the Raleigh-Durham area, try India Gate in Durham.  The lunch buffet is heavenly, & the price & service can’t be beat either.)indian_food
  19. Whatever physical “faults” you’re most self-conscious about, the rest of the world probably doesn’t even notice them. Seriously, we are all our own worst critics.  No one is paying half as much attention to your big forehead, crooked nose, or acne as you are.
  20. Never pretend to be something or someone you’re not to make someone else like you. If you’re being fake, you will inevitably be found out & it will never work anyway.  If someone doesn’t appreciate you for who are really are, you don’t need them in your life anyway.
  21. High school is barely a blip on the radar in the course of your lifetime. (Thank goodness!)  Seriously, the cool kids in high school are rarely all that cool past high school.  Who you were in high school won’t, or certainly shouldn’t, define who you are afterward.  If the high point of your life was high school, your life is really sad.  Trust me, real life isn’t half as bad as everyone says.
  22. Emotions are just emotions. There is no bigger waste of time than feeling guilty over being angry or sad or experiencing some other “negative” emotion over something.  Quite often these emotions are just natural human reactions to events in our lives.  The only thing that really matters is how we handle & respond to these emotions.avoidance
  23. We are all hypocrites. No matter what we believe or don’t believe, we are all hypocrites sometimes.  It’s ok.  None of us is perfect.  The important thing is to keep trying & to stay humble.
  24. Never judge people based on superficial things such as dress, tattoos, piercings, or accent. Or at least don’t be so indecent as to dismiss people entirely based on these kinds of superficial things.  In doing so, you will often miss out on the true nature of the person.  However, as unfair as it is, we do need to be aware that the vast majority of the world does judge others based on these things.  I’m not saying we should change these things about ourselves to appease others.  I just think we all need to be aware of the fact that, for better or worse, our outer appearance & demeanor are the first things people notice about us.
  25. The only thing we can really be certain of in life is that it is uncertain. And the only thing that never changes is that life is always changing.  I talked about this on here a few weeks ago.  This doesn’t have to be depressing.  We just need to realize that we’re never promised tomorrow.  And we’re certainly never promised a tomorrow that looks anything like our past or the present.  Thus we need to appreciate all the little things in life & make the most of every opportunity & experience that comes our way.  Life is far too short to do anything but have as much fun & do as much good as we possibly can.change quote gb shaw

The 6 Best Bands You’ve Never Heard About

One of my favorite activities in life is discovering new music.  As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I grew up in a conservative family in a small town in Virginia, & thus it’s not too surprising that I was very sheltered for the first 18 years of my life.  However, once I got to college & had unlimited access to the Internet, including that fascinating place called YouTube, as well as dozens of new friends to broaden my horizons a bit, I began to explore all kinds of new (to me) music.  The biggest discovery I made was that I actually loved rock & metal, which I had previously shunned for most of my life as “devil music.”  In any case, over the past 8 years or so I’ve become a real music junkie.  Indeed, I have to be one of the only people under 30 who still buys actual physical CDs on a regular basis (because I am just weird like that).  I’m also proud to say that I’ve started to become that person who introduces other people to new bands & artists.  Furthermore, one of the best compliments I can receive is being told I have great taste in music (or books).

music speaks

Anyhow, today I thought I would share some of my favorite bands from various genres who are a bit out of the mainstream music scene but whose music deserves to be played on every radio station in this country.  I’ve provided links to at least 2 songs on YouTube for each artist so that you can easily locate some of their best pieces.  I sincerely hope you’ll click at least a few of these links because you never know when you might discover a new favorite band.

  1. Honor By August (Soft Rock)

I first heard Honor By August at a street concert in downtown Raleigh this past Spring.  They were one of the opening acts for Third Eye Blind, & let me just tell you that they blew 3EB way out of the water.  I was so impressed with them that I almost immediately bought their most recent album online & purchased tickets to see them again in August at the Pourhouse in downtown Raleigh.  I was even more impressed with them the second time around.  Honor By August is a 4-piece rock band based out of Washington DC (although their bassist is from right here in Raleigh).  Their music is substantially “softer” than my usual taste in rock, but their lyrics & delivery are absolutely stellar.  The emotion that comes through in Michael Pearsall’s voice is just undeniable.  By turns uplifting & by turns heart-wrenching, the lyrics to their songs are well-crafted & strike straight to the heart.  For a more upbeat song, check out Already Yours (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvhxWavi9eQ).  For a mid-tempo piece, check out We Were Young (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2Qq0JpnNpM).  And lastly for a real tear-jerker about lost love, check out Johnny (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGHaKJrrg9A).

honor by august

  1. Brandi Carlile (Alternative Country/Folk Rock)

Brandi Carlile’s name has certainly started to gain more recognition, as several of her songs have been featured in TV commercials/shows & major Hollywood films.  However, such features hardly do justice to the power of this woman’s amazing voice.  I started to get interested in her when I read Eric Church’s praise for Brandi’s talent.  (After all, anyone Eric Church recognizes as talented is worth at least a cursory listen.)  Well, it just so happened that I came across one of Brandi’s CDs in Boston a few weeks ago, so naturally I jumped on it.  Not only is her music stellar, but I admire her courage in being open about her sexuality.  A married lesbian country singer/songwriter (who is NOT from the South) is clearly far from the standard country music paradigm, & I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s part of the reason she is not played on the radio as she should be.  It’s hard for me to pick favorites, but I’d highly recommend checking out 100 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mS6wXth2bEA), The Story (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8pQLtHTPaI), & A Promise to Keep (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oayzr_KDYFM).

brandi carlile

  1. Nikki Lane (Alternative Country)

I first read about Nikki Lane a few months ago & was immediately intrigued by this alternative country singer who embodies a real rock & roll spirit.  Just this week I received both of her albums in the mail, & I’m thoroughly enjoying diving into both of them.  While maintaining a country style, it’s easy to pick up on jazz & rock influences in her albums.  As someone who loves music that crosses genre lines, Nikki’s music is instantly appealing.  For a slower-paced piece that superbly features Nikki’s sultry voice, check out You Can’t Talk to Me Like That (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCRRO_IqVgs).  Then check out her rock & roll spirit in Right Time (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzS3vU6wZa4).  You won’t find a Wikipedia page about Nikki (yet), but you can read a good interview with her here:   http://www.americansongwriter.com/2014/07/5-nashvilles-finest-nikki-lake-rebel/.

nikki lane

  1. Gemini Syndrome (Hard Rock/Metal)

I first discovered Gemini Syndrome last summer when I saw that they were on tour with Five Finger Death Punch.  As FFDP is one of my favorite bands of all time, naturally that was enough to intrigue me.  As I started looking up their songs on YouTube I was thoroughly impressed with what I found.  Here is a hard rock band, with some definite metal influences, whose music is sensational AND whose lyrics are philosophical & deep.  It wasn’t long before I purchased their album Lux & fell in love.  Introducing others to new music is one of my greatest joys in life, & I’m happy to say that my husband also fell in love with this fantastic album, which sounds much more mature than a debut album.  For an inspirational piece, check out Pleasure & Pain (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5Y1whCvdpo).  Another stellar piece is Basement which was written by the lead singer in relation to his albinism.  I think we can all relate to Aaron Nordstrom when he sings “I never wanted this/I never asked for it/But this is what you gave me/I never wanted this/I never asked for it/But this is what you gave me/Why would you forsake me?”  Haven’t we all felt that way at some point in our lives for one reason or another?  Check out Basement here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMmnl2Gs_Ho.  (And just in case anyone’s wondering because of the symbolism in the videos, no, this is NOT a Satanist or pagan band.)

gemini syndrome

  1. Mindset Evolution (Hard Rock)

My husband & I discovered Mindset Evolution at Uproar Festival in Raleigh two years ago.  Their live performance was very impressive so we bought the five-song disc that they had for sale at the show.  Over the next year I stayed up to date with the band on their Facebook page, & naturally I purchased their first full-length album on the very day it debuted last summer.  This is yet another debut album that sounds very mature.  These five guys from Illinois are clearly dedicated to writing & performing their music & that dedication shows through in their songs.  Check out heavy-hitter Burn It Down (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QA3DP55qumE) & the inspirational The Change (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnADuQVecPA).  How these guys are not on the radio more is absolutely beyond comprehension.  Additionally to anyone who thinks rock music is all anger & negativity, I beg you to give this band a listen & let them prove you wrong.

mindset evolution

  1. Redlight King (Rock- with rap influences)

Redlight King is yet another band my husband & I discovered at Uproar Festival two years ago.  This band features Canadian singer/songwriter Mark Kasprzyk.  After the festival I started looking up their music on YouTube & was surprised at the great variety of styles in the band’s music (some more traditional rock, some with heavy rap influences).  Two years later I now own both of their albums . . . Check out Bullet in My Hand which was the song that really caught my attention at Uproar Festival: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1KL5U-fyMc.  Also don’t miss Kaz’s tribute to his dad in the rap-rock song Old Man: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGt54Ozo8LQ.  Lastly, be sure to check out the inspirational song Times are Hard:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3IziTRWzTUo.

redlight king

I sincerely hope you’ll take the time to check out at least a few of these bands who are truly worthy of your attention.  And if you like what you hear, I hope you’ll take the next step in supporting these great artists by purchasing their albums &/or tickets to a live show.  As you may have noticed I discovered three of these bands at live shows . . . And all three of them were NOT the artist I had gone to those shows to see . . . As I said at the beginning, you just never know when or where you might discover your newest favorite band.  Happy listening!

On the Meaning of Suffering & the Uncertainty of Life

My career as a nurse affords me a lot of opportunities to encounter suffering in all of its many forms.  Primarily of course I deal with physical suffering, but by its very nature physical suffering leads into any & all other forms of suffering including both spiritual & emotional suffering, particularly as people confront terminal illness & death.  As many other nurses will tell you, helping people to work through emotional & spiritual suffering is actually much more challenging than dealing with physical suffering.  Additionally I serve as a family service volunteer with a local hospice group which of course brings me even closer to those dealing with their own impending death or the death of a loved one.  People are always shocked that I would choose to spend additional time around those at the end of life, but despite my young age I’ve always felt a special connection with those facing the end of their life or the life of a loved one.  Unlike many people in the healthcare profession, I’ve never viewed death as the enemy but rather as the inevitable conclusion to life, which sometimes can actually be the respite a person needs when they’ve truly suffered long enough.  Indeed I learned very early in my career that there are fates far, far worse than death.

pema chodron quote

Being surrounded by so much suffering in life can be a bit overwhelming at times, & it certainly leads me to think about my own beliefs & ideas regarding suffering & the uncertainty of life.  The older I get & the more experiences I have, the more I’m learning that the only thing of which we can ever really be certain in life is that it is always uncertain.  Indeed, the only thing that never changes is that life is always changing.

Many people say that God allows us to suffer so we can grow closer to Him.  And that God chooses to heal some people while He also chooses not to heal others (for reasons that we, of course, can’t understand).  I just believe that some people get better & some don’t.  However, I do think that “mind over matter” can make a huge difference in how people handle both physical & emotional suffering.  There may very well be some scientific reasoning for this that we don’t yet fully understand, but regardless I don’t think it changes the fact that having a positive but realistic attitude really can change how we experience this life.

pema chodron quote 2

For thousands or perhaps millions of years, humans have struggled with the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  I honestly thing it requires more mental gymnastics to believe that God has some elaborate plan we can’t understand to explain our suffering than to simply believe that bad things happen because of scientific reasons such as bad genes or bad timing.  But that doesn’t mean that our suffering has to be pointless or that we are alone in this world.  I just think the only meaning to suffering (or really anything in life) is the meaning we assign to it.  We can choose to allow our suffering to teach us to be a better person & to reach out to others, or we can wallow in misery & cut ourselves off from any happiness that is left to us.  The latter response is only natural & perhaps healthy at first.  But we do have to move past it or we will be miserable forever.  The best way I can sum up my feelings on the meaning of suffering is by sharing a quote from the Buddhist writer Pema Chodron:

Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction. On the other hand, wretchedness–life’s painful aspect–softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody’s eyes because you feel you haven’t got anything to lose–you’re just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We’d be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn’t have enough energy to eat an apple. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.”

kahlil gibran quote

What is boils down to is this: at the end of the day, you & only you are responsible for your choices in life & how you handle the things that happen to you, both good & bad, even those that are beyond your control.  This is both terrifying & empowering.  It’s terrifying because it forces you to realize that you cannot just blame your parents, the economy, your spouse, your children, your friends, your boss, or anything or anyone else for your own unhappiness or inability to achieve your dreams.  But it’s also empowering because it forces you to realize that you & only have the power to change your life.  Of course there are always some things beyond our control, but our attitude is never one of them.

change your life

I realize this might not be the most upbeat, encouraging post I’ve ever shared but it’s something that’s been close to my heart lately.  Trust me, there are days when I really struggle with the unfairness of life.  I’ve seen patients younger than me with cancer & other chronic illnesses who have died.  And I am only 25!  Seeing young people suffering with illnesses that are completely beyond their control is incredibly difficult, regardless of your beliefs.  The only conclusion I consistently reach is that life is both beautiful & terrible.  And the best thing any of us can do is to appreciate the beautiful parts as much as we can.

With that in mind, when you’re driving down the road & the beautiful Fall leaves are swirling around you, take time to notice how magical that is.  If you’re taking a hike, take time to soak up the enchanting, intoxicating smell of the forest.  Allow yourself to be caught up in the beauty of music.  No matter how hard life gets, don’t close yourself off or refuse to try new things.  As cliché as it sounds, live every day as if it were your last so that whenever that day does come, whether today, tomorrow, or fifty years from now, you will be able to face death with peace & without regrets.


Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?

Please allow me to preface this by stating that today’s post is purely my opinion & not meant to be taken too seriously.  I realize this is, at the end of the day, a fairly superficial issue, but nonetheless it’s something I feel compelled to discuss.  Also the title is a bit misleading as I’m really not into the true cowboy look, but I couldn’t think of a better one.

How did I forget to include a picture of the perfectly-dressed Wade from "Hart of Dixie" yesterday?  Oh well, better late than never.

How did I forget to include a picture of the perfectly-dressed Wade from “Hart of Dixie” yesterday? Oh well, better late than never.

This post was inspired by our trip to Boston this weekend where I was a bridesmaid in my college roommate’s wedding.  During our quick tour of Boston I couldn’t help but notice that 99% of the men I saw, whether on the street, on the subway, or in restaurants/stores, were wearing either suits or tight/skinny jeans.  Ewwwwww.  (Just to be clear, I also notice this phenomenon in NC far too much for my comfort.)  Again this is purely subjective, but I am writing this mainly to confirm that there are other ladies out there who are so over this skinny jean fad for men (& women too actually) & who much prefer men in jeans & a T-shirt over a suit or tux any day.  I’ve never understood why so many women find men so attractive in suits.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve always preferred a more casual, relaxed look.  If it had been totally up to us, my husband would definitely have worn jeans & a plaid button-up shirt to our wedding instead of a suit.  But we stuck with a suit because we didn’t feel like rocking the boat too much.  (On the same token, I stuck with a white dress when I really wanted to wear green.  Kind of wish I’d actually gone through with the green dress though.)

I'm biased because I love his music, but Eric Church  knows how to dress: simple & casual but still put-together.

I’m biased because I love his music, but Eric Church knows how to dress: simple & casual but still put-together.

To a certain extent we are all affected by where we grew up & the culture of that area.  So I suppose it’s not too shocking that I find men in jeans & a T-shirt or plaid shirt more attractive than men in suits.  After all I did grow up in a very rural area where suits were solely worn for church, funerals, & weddings.  But even so I’ve never been particularly fond of the cowboy look that is so prevalent in rural areas because a cowboy hat & boots have always struck me as a bit superfluous unless of course you are an actual cowboy, & let’s face, it, that’s unlikely, unless perhaps you’re in Montana or Wyoming.  And just to prove I’m not too much of a country girl stereotype, I’ve never once been “mudding,” have only been fishing once (& have no real interest in going again), & am very picky about country music & indeed I actually prefer hard rock & metal (& classical of course).  Additionally I know plenty of women from rural areas who still find the suit/tux look very attractive for men, so clearly our preferences aren’t 100% dictated by our background.

hipster male fashion


Perhaps my dislike of suits arises partly from the fact that I’ve always been most attracted to men with broad shoulders & muscular arms & these types of men usually look a bit stiff & awkward in suits.   Additionally, as I’ve written about in the past, I am a very casual person so formalwear is far from my cup of tea (for myself included, & naturally if a man is wearing a suit, it means I would need to be dressed up to in order to be with him).  I don’t like fancy restaurants because the atmosphere feels stiff & forced, & I prefer bonfires by the river (or house parties) to clubs or bars any day of the week (largely because at the former you can actually talk to people without screaming over obnoxiously loud dance music & you can drink without paying an arm & a leg for it).

Imran Khan is a Hindi actor who has a great relaxed style.

Imran Khan is a Hindi actor who has a great relaxed style.  I mean, how could you say no to this?

Basically all I’m saying is why are so many men forcing themselves to wear tight jeans, silly hipster sweaters, & suits when none of these things can be at all comfortable?  If something isn’t comfortable, I don’t wear it.  Wearing something uncomfortable just violates my sense of logic & practicality.  This is why I don’t own a single pair of stilettos & never will.  Also when will society ever get over the idea that dressing up somehow makes you a “better” or more trust-worthy person?  I fully support the notion that we shouldn’t go out in public without looking in a mirror & trying to appear at least a little bit “put-together,” but why should a man in a suit automatically be judged as wealthier, more honorable, or more “gentlemanly” than a man in jeans & a T-shirt?  And as much as I hated the low-riding “gansta” jeans of the 2000’s, tight jeans on men are just gross.  Duh.

skinny jeans men

Thank goodness for men like my husband who are rocking the jeans & T-shirt look.  Now can y’all help the rest of your gender get their act together?  Please & thank you.