Tuesday, August 19, 2014

:: LIFE :: Soldier of the Spirit

Last week brought us heartbreaking news and spurred numerous conversations on a very delicate subject. Of course I shared the same anguish that swept across the world when I heard the unsettling news of Robin Williams’ death, but I didn’t think to write about it until I came across a link to an article that I found to be rather serendipitously timed. The more I thought on it, the more the combination of the two events compelled me to put my thoughts into writing. My goal in doing so is not to try to explain away a death. I simply want to celebrate a man who was larger than life, and use this time to incite some much needed self reflection for the rest of us.

We lost a great man who, despite his own battles, brought an unquantifiable richness into the lives of others. If you haven’t been on the internet in the last week, first of all I commend you, but more so, I realize that you then may not yet understand the impact that this man has had on so many lives. And so, I want to take a moment to remember Robin Williams and honor his life and achievements as an entertainer with an uncanny talent for liberating laughs of pure, absolute joy from the bellies of even the most rigid human. And yet behind the impressions and the laughter, it’s clear from the memories that have been shared in a visceral reaction to the alarming news, that Williams’ heart was much bigger than his personality.

From his numerous charitable contributions to the individual stories I’ve read, Williams was a man of tremendous empathy who, it seems, had a way of letting you know that your experience was, in every way, as much of an impact on his life as it was on your own. He knew when others felt pain and did everything in his power to make them forget it, if only for a moment of complete exaltation. He also had a tender, quiet side that he sometimes shared with us on the screen where his walls were down and he shone in front of us not as an entertainer but as a man, as deep and complex as his bag of tricks. I never had the pleasure of meeting the local legend, but I can just imagine his expressive face softly relaxing as he speaks gently in his deep, unadulterated voice, his steel blue eyes telling you that, at that very moment in time, you’re the most important person in the world to him.

Taking such an honest investment in others is a quality of character that I think is a rare commodity these days. I suspect that it’s a casualty of trying to keep up in this ever-advancing, ever-challenging rat race. A race that has a tendency to turn out the worst in people. Then there’s the rare few who, despite all the malign influence around them, are hell bent on preserving the best qualities of the human spirit. I like to think of them as soldiers of the spirit, fighting for the pure moments that make life worth living. It’s a tough battle; maybe the toughest of all. And as a result, their spirit takes blow after irreparable blow, fighting against an ailing microcosm that doesn’t seem to want to get better. They take on the weight that many others refuse to carry; an inconceivably heavy weight that most would avoid if they could, in favor of a less rocky, more “normal” existence. Yet these soldiers persist, because even the smallest victory — a smile cracked, or a helping hand received — results in momentary bliss so intense that it rivals any pleasure brought from temporal joys. And that moment alone is enough to continue the fight, until occasionally the spirit has to acquiesce.

Whether struggling ourselves, or knowing someone who's going through something you can see and feel but don't quite understand, we can never forget that we’re in this together. We all struggle with things like how to fit in, how to succeed, and how to make sense of this world that seems to propelling us towards the unknown. But we forget that we’re solely responsible for the these things and the direction that we’re heading. By shaping our own lives, we shape the lives of those around us and, henceforth, we shape the world. Of course, there will always be things that are out of our control — illness, natural disasters, etc. — but for every moment in between, when we do have the power be a positive impact and to fight for the goodness of humanity, shouldn’t we?

I definitely don’t want to give the anyone the wrong impression or make it seem like I’m suggesting that adopting a rosy outlook on life is a cure for depression, because I know first hand what a sensitive topic this can be. I know that things like depression and anxiety are medically classified as mental disorders or illnesses. And yes, they are basically the result of a biological function that isn’t technically considered normal. And yes, I know all too well that they are scary, and dangerous and should be treated. But I don’t think nature, in this case, is necessarily so stalwart an opponent that nurture doesn’t have a fighting chance in the ring.

It feels like a lot of people hear the words “mental disorder” and immediately place those people into a bucket labeled “sick” or “broken,” as if to say they don’t have control over their lives or actions because they were dealt this particular “fate." But I don’t think it’s necessarily a flaw to feel emotions with the power of a thousand suns. Inconvenient sometimes? Yes, terribly so. But defective? Quite the opposite. So I wonder what would happen if, instead of attributing everything to a medical diagnosis and assuming no responsibility, we turned back around and looked at ourselves, questioning if the lives we lead are in support of and nurturing to the human spirit. If we all carried a little more weight, is it possible to ease the heaviness of the world we’ve shaped that encumbers those who are already slated to take the brunt it?

We live in a complex, evolving world that can be hard on even the most biologically stable limbic systems. But in the same way that the mindful practice of combat breathing stops the stress response in a real soldier, being more mindful about our own emotions and spirits could have a positive impact on those of others. Rather than continuing to propagate a cycle of illness and defeat with things like ignorance and pride, we could all apply a few simple, mindful rules to our lives that, I believe, would have a tremendous impact on the human spirit. Ironically, it’s as simple as the basic rule of physics: for every action, there is a reaction, because health and happiness are contagious. By investing in myself, I am investing you. And vise versa.

This article from Psychology Today seems very simple and obvious on the surface, because it is. It explains the most basic functions of life that our ancestors lived by, before the world was littered with so much excessive, external stimuli that we’ve allowed to clog up our spiritual arteries and muddle the goodness inside us. Before we were entrepreneurs and celebrities, we were and are humans first. Why behave any other way?

For a really beautiful tribute to Robin Williams, check out my friend Chris' post. And grab a box of tissues... The Travel Journo: What Robin Williams meant to a kid born in the 80’s

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

:: BEAUTY :: Hairplay | The Deep Part

As a girl with naturally curly hair, I've struggled with my hair for as long as I can remember.  I do love curly hair... just not my curly hair (but don't we all say that?).  Sure, I've had a good curly hair day here and there, but the problem is I never know what I'm going to get and it requires much so much more work than just blowing it all out straight, so that's what I've been falling back on on a daily basis these days.  However, as someone who has the versatility of curly hair... I have to say that straight hair can get kind of boring (sorry).  So lately I've been playing around with different blow out styles and one look that I've long admired is the deep part, side-swept hair.

Whitney Port
Cara Delevingne

Eva Mendes
Amanda Seyfried
Penelope Cruz

I've only just attempted it in recent weeks, but I have to say that I love it!  It has a way of looking uber glamorous, yet casual at the same time.  It's like, "Oh my hair?  I just run my fingers through it and give it a toss."  Meanwhile you're face is perfectly framed with a lush set of locks falling down around your shoulder.  I might also add that this look lends itself nicely to the old trick of tossing your hair about as a way of casting your scent in the direction of the cutie next to you at the coffee shop.  Just don't over do it, ladies, because we've all been suffocated by the overly perfumed.  And a quick side note: if you use anything but an oil for scent, keep it off your locks directly, as the alcohol in it can be drying.  I find that hair picks up any scent nicely if you just dab it on the back of your neck.

Anyway, this look is all about volume, and since my fine hair has a tendency to fall flat, I know I have to really work the round brush to pull this off.  I also broke out the hairspray, which I rarely use, to keep things lifted and in place.  My hairstylist recommended Paul Mitchell's Hold Me Tight, which works great and has that nice "I just walked out of the salon" smell.  I also use large round brush for my roots, to kick up  the volume, and a medium round brush on my ends to give them a nice bounce.

Here's an actual tutorial from hairstylist Anthony Turner on getting side-part bed head, à la Cara Delevingne and Whitney Port.  You may also choose to go for a more polished look, seen on Eva, or one with a little more body and curl, like Penelope and Amanda above, which is the direction I tend to go.

Have you recently tried a new hairstyle?  What's your go-to, feeling-fabulous hairstyle?


Monday, February 25, 2013

:: FASHION :: The Oscars 2013

Well kids, that's a wrap!  The finest night of red carpet glory has come and gone, and it did not disappoint.  From classic silhouettes to daring details, the starlets were in full force and aiming to leave an impression.  It was actually very hard for me to choose my favorites as I found there were many more hits than misses.  Nonetheless, I've selected several looks that I felt defined this year's Oscars and even managed to pick the one that I thought took the cake!

Best Dressed

Charlize Theron in Dior
We already know the damn woman is perfection, but Charlize's look last night, from head to toe, was absolutely flawless.  The intense structural design of this dress was the perfect complement to her statuesque figure, and her makeup was so light and natural, making this feel almost too effortless.  And this look with any other hair almost seems impossible.  The sporty pixie brings a freshness to this otherwise ultra classic look reminding us, yet again, how naturally stunning Charlize really is.

Simple Stunners

Amanda Seyfried in Alexander McQueen
Jessica Chastain in Giorgio Armani
Jennifer Garner in Gucci
These ladies don't need much when it comes to looking gorgeous.  Whether it's Jessica's flawless skin and striking hair, Amanda's engaging eyes, or Jennifer's pure grace, the dresses they wear almost seem to come in second to their natural beauty.  This year, their simple, yet stunning choices made a statement while still feeling true to their personal style.


Kristen Stewart in Reem Acra
Kerry Washington in Miu Miu
Jane Fonda in Versace
These ladies surprised me, happily, with something new and unexpected.  Kerry and Jane's colors were daring, yet absolutely welcome on this night.  And while the Reem Acra that Kristen chose was so intricate and fabulous in its own right, she did not really do it any justice.  Would this have been better on another starlet who would have shown this dress the appreciation it deserves?  Yes.  But I can't not celebrate the beautiful craftsmanship of Reem Acra just because of the body that this dress ended up on.


Naomi Watts in Giorgio Armani
Again, we have two ladies who took a risk, choosing two very modern, architectural looks at this traditionally classic affair.  The severe lines and cut-out of Naomi's dress are modern and right on trend, while the linear repetition of Halle's dress reminds us of old art deco buildings.  Both dresses fit these ladies like a glove, and perfectly accentuated their incredible figures.

Ball Gown

No Oscars are complete without a proper ball gown, and these three ladies nailed it.  Fan Bingbing's hot pink Marchesa was a knockout, while Amy Adams was pure romance in this decadent tulle gown by Oscar de la Renta.  Jennifer Lawrence's Dior was even more gorgeous than it was full, and the shape was so unique and special, creating an iconic moment for the star.  Kind of reminds me of the now iconic pink dress that Gwyneth Paltrow wore when she won.

What was your favorite look?  And did you watch the awards, or just tune in for the fashions?


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

:: FASHION :: Weekend Looks

Just because it's the weekend doesn't mean you have to be a bum.  I like to think of the weekends as special occasions, since most of us guilty of the weekday hustle and bustle.  We should take the weekends to really celebrate our personal time and how much we accomplished during the week, and that means looking and feeling just as fabulous as you would any other day.  Below are two looks that I recently donned for my weekend adventures, from a trip to the SF MoMa to a simple farmers market and grocery run.  

Day at the Museum

Monday, February 18, 2013

:: LIFE :: The Importance of Being Lazy

Okay maybe not lazy, per se, but having the ability to let it all go once in a while, which is exactly what I did last Wednesday.

Take a note from this guy: the Red Panda, known for his sedentary lifestyle.  The next time you feel like you're running yourself ragged, congratulate yourself on all that you've already accomplished and take a day off.

I finally decided last week to give myself a little more structure while I'm off of work so that, even though I'm nowhere near short on time these days, I wouldn't be wasting any of my free time with stupid little things like figuring out how to plan my day.  So I committed myself to being responsibly productive Monday & Tuesday, Thursday & Friday, while Wednesday would be my adventure day and the weekends would be up for grabs.  

What's that?  What kind of adventures you ask?  Well I admittedly haven't explored San Francisco nearly enough for having been a full-time resident for just about 3 years now, so finding cheesy sightseeing, touristy things to do made sense.  I also thought it would be great to use Wednesdays for self-exploration as well; things like taking a photography or salsa class.  So I did a bunch of research and found list upon list of adventures I could go on.  When Wednesday finally rolled around the adventure I chose was (drumroll please!)… doing absolutely nothing.

When I woke up that morning, having not set an alarm for the first time all week, I realized I was absolutely spent.  I had started my awesome (yet brutal) Pure Barre classes the Friday before and worked out hard everyday since, had a full weekend, and had followed through on being totally productive that Monday and Tuesday.  By the time Wednesday rolled around, my body and mind couldn't quite handle an adventure.  So I threw in the towel, said "screw it," and lazed around my house all… day… long…  It was fantastic!

Though at first I could feel little moments of guilt trying to get it -- "You're going to regret this. You're not accomplishing anything." -- I quickly realized that I had accomplished things and had been doing so for the last five days straight.  I deserved a day off, dammit!  And the rest of the day I relished in that very thought: I deserve this.  By bedtime that night, I felt so rested that I was a little concerned I enjoyed my day too much.  What if I don't want to do anything again tomorrow?

To my delight and slight surprise, I was up before my alarm the next morning and rearing to get to my Pure Barre class.  That's right -- I was actually excited about working my quads so hard that they would burn and shake to the point of excessive lactic acid build up, making me want to cry and ralph all at the same time (I swear, it's a good feeling...sometimes).  As soon as I was up I knew that greeting yesterday with the wild abandon of not caring at all was exactly what I needed to avoid what would eventually hit me at probably the most inopportune time: burnout.  Not only did I get the rest I needed, but my lazy day gave me a boost to be even more productive and attack the rest of the week like I never had before!

Unfortunately that meant I was so occupied I didn't have time to post all week -- eek!  But I'm back, with a vengeance, and planning some great new posts to share with you.  Stay tuned!

Monday, February 11, 2013

:: FASHION :: In My Closet - February 2013

Despite my budgetary restrictions, I've still managed to squeeze in some shopping.  Although, that might change very soon.  Regardless, these are a few of my favorite purchases as of late... (FYI, yes -- I'm a J.Crew addict)

1. {anthropologie watercolor weekender}
Seriously, one of the best purchases I've made.  I am completely and utterly obsessed with my purse.  And I usually don't spend money on bags because I change them or get tired of them, but this one was so worth it.

4. {j.crew printed hearts iphone case}
These are the best iPhone cases!  Not only are they incredibly cute, but I've dropped my phone a hundred times (it's kind of ridiculous) and it's never cracked or anything.  I'm going to work on the not dropping it part, but for now I at least have piece of mind that these cases provide some shock absorption.

8. {j.crew leopard belt}
This is another essential purchase.  I pretty much throw this on with every outfit.  Maybe another thing I should work on: variety.  But leopard is a neutral so I'm thinking it's okay to continue to abuse this belt's versatility.

9. {shoedazzle carine heel}
Another solid purchase, and totally budget friendly!  Can you believe these were only $39.99?!  And again, such a great neutral that I can wear them with practically anything.  I have to give myself kudos for super smart shopping with these ones!


Sunday, February 10, 2013

:: SAN FRANCISCO :: NoPA, Eat Your Heart Out!

No really.  Prepare to stock your kitchens and stomachs with some of SF's finest foods.  And don't forget the beverages!  Here's what's new to the up-and-coming neighborhood of NoPa (North of the Panhandle) this season:

Wine Kitchen :: now open!
With it's doors opening early last month, Wine Kitchen has quickly become a Divisadero hot spot, and for good reason.  One of those reasons: wine on tap.  I'm not exactly sure what the actual benefits of wine on tap are, but I do know that it's another way to get the wine to my mouth and I fully support that.  Specializing in (duh) wine, the staff is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful if you're like me and all you know about wine is that it tastes damn good.

Another reason for the non-stop nightly crowds: the bar-sized menu of very un bar-like food.  As much as I don't mind rejoicing in some greasy, I'm-gonna-pay-for-this bar food every one in a while, why not enjoy my libations (yes, they have beer too) with some delectable speck or frisée?  I can already recommend the soft egg and kale combo, and since it's only a couple blocks from me, I plan on working my way through the whole menu in no time.

As for the scene, it's small, dark and intimate -- just as good for a date spot or grabbing a table with the girls.  My favorite part about Wine Kitchen is that it has that great, neighborhood feel to it.  It's not too flashy for Divisadero, nor is it reserved for only the hippest of hipsters.  It really feels like a spot where everyone is welcome and that everyone can enjoy, and I think NoPa should be proud to claim ownership of this new neighborhood-anchoring venue.

{via winekitchensf.com}

The Mill :: reopening February 12th
Apparently The Mill has been quite the thing on Divisadero since last July, but in a rather obscure nature.  Maybe I simply passed by it without recognition because it was less of a store front than it was a temporary booth serving only drip coffee and toast.  However, it closed its doors (err, tarps?) in mid-January for a total makeover and will soon become an actual coffee shop.

I only recently took notice as I was passing the construction site one day and saw the tell-tale sign of a modern business with a classic sensibility: a white subway tile facade.  I mean, setting the scene in any eatery is half the battle, and going with the classic, timeless look of subway tiles circa 1906 San Francisco is this new establishment's way of brightening up the hood while holding on to it's historic roots.

Given that The Mill is a collaboration between local favorites Four Barrel Coffee and Josey Baker Bread, I think it's safe to say that this will be a huge hit beyond just the decor.  And given my eternal desire to be Parisian, I'm always excited about a good ol' cafe bakery.  You better believe I'll be there for the opening, and I'll be sure to provide an update with a review.

Bi-Rite Market :: opening March
There are a few local spots that others may use to gauge how San Franciscan you really are based on your familiarity and regular attendance of them.  One of those is Bi-Rite Market.  With it's origin in the ultra-hip(ster) Mission, I would say it's only one part cult favorite + three heaping parts really great market.  Featuring tons of local vendors, they really demonstrate a stewardship for the smaller, hard-working vendors.  Prices may be on the higher side, but provided their mission, "Creating community through food," you know where your money is going when you shop here and you can feel good about showing your support.

Now you're probably asking yourself, what about the creamery?  And my tastebuds are happy to tell you that the market will be large enough to include not only the famous Bi-Rite Creamery (sans lines around the corner in the biting cold), but also a full-sized cheese counter.  Of course, neither of those are really allowed on my current track towards my goal body, but I feel better knowing that, in a time of  emotional crisis, temporary, delicious self-destruction is only a couple blocks away.

{via biritemarket.com}

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