Steady As We Go

As we all know by now, the world is going through a very tough time right now. Instead of speculating about when will things be back to some sense of normalcy, it would not be right to do guesswork about that as of today. Instead, I think it would be best to remind ourselves of a few things we can do over the next few weeks or months to prepare ourselves both mentally and physically for these challenging times. I would like to give my readers out there some advice which has helped me so far in terms of moving forward with my day-to-day activities and also the larger goals that I have for myself.

  1. Take Care of Your Friends and Family: Now is the time to be there for your family and close friends in any way that you can. Even if you are not in the same city or in the same country, take some time out of your day to call or message them to see how they are doing. If you can do so, try to help around the apartment or house with cooking, cleaning, running errands, etc. This is a time to be close to the ones you love and to be there for them.

Remote work and schooling are important and should be a priority, but you should not forget to make time for those around you and to check in on them. Given how much running around you could be doing, you will likely have more time to reach out to loved ones and really take the time to engage in conversation or have dinner together or just to FaceTime every night before bed. I think it is the #1 priority right now to have during this difficult time.

  1. Look for New Opportunities: Obviously, this is a hard time both employment wise and financially. If you have to find a new job or a new opportunity, do your best to be prepared to find those jobs and work opportunities even if they are not ideal for your long-term career pursuits. In a time like this, it would be best to swallow your pride and expand your availability for jobs that will be coming down the pipeline. You have to do what you have to do within reason to keep the lights on and feed your family. It may be working to stock shelves to delivering groceries or to work as a receptionist but if it comes with health insurance and a decent wage, it may be in your best interest to take that opportunity at least for a few months.

Nothing is permanent and even if it is not a job you want to be doing, consider it a way to build up your resilience and to be helping others especially if the job calls for it. The wider you broaden the search, the better off you will be. You just want to make sure you polish off your resume and your cover letter to update it after a gap of some time.

  1. Be Kind to Others: People are stressed out and worried. You have to act like that is currently the situation and give others the benefit of the doubt. You don’t know what is going on in their lives during this crisis and it’s not something you should be asking about. Be respectful, patient, and kind. Don’t be demanding, rude, or just overall a bad person to others. There is such a thing as karma, and it can accrue in both good and bad ways especially now. I do believe that you should treat others the way you would want to be treated and that is how you should approach life under quarantine.

Tempers can flare with ease and things can get out of control so just be aware of your emotions, realize that nothing is worth a verbal or physical confrontation over (especially toilet paper), and always remember to say please and thank you. It does not cost anything to be nice and you should always leave the house if you have to now with that in mind. Good manners will always help you get through a crisis like that.

  1. Volunteer and Donate If You Can: This is only a suggestion but this is the time to give blood if you are eligible, donate extra food and clothes to those organizations who need it and can vouch as to where the money is going, and also see if you can deliver groceries if you have free time. It should go without saying that you should only be volunteering in public if you have a clean bill of health and have not been traveling overseas in the past two weeks. I have seen numerous remote volunteering opportunities pop up in the past week include video conferencing with senior citizens and asking as a pen-pal for them as they stay secluded at home and could use a friend.

Get together with some friends and put together a spreadsheet of organizations / places in your local town or city that are asking for monetary donations or for food/clothing/supplies, etc. It is a misconception that you need to leave the house to donate or to volunteer. In a time like this, sometimes, people especially the elderly or the solitary just could use someone to talk to or listen to them. I have heard stories of mental health professionals volunteering their time for free to help those people in need and that warms my heart quite a bit. If you are not completely healthy and/or free of symptoms, you should not be volunteering outside of the house!

  1. Stay Home and Wash Your Hands: This advice should go without saying by now, but it should be repeated that you should not be leaving your home unless your job requires it or if you need to pick up groceries or go to the pharmacy. I try not to compulsively wash my hands but it’s better to overdo it than under-do it so make sure you sing the ‘happy birthday’ song twice and use enough soap for the 20 seconds it takes to wash your hands.

If you can go for a walk on your own, it is great to get some fresh air even if it is just around the block. You will need some sunlight (vitamin D) and as long as you maintain your social distancing of 2 meters (six feet), there’s nothing wrong with walking for 10-15 minutes to clear your head and shake off the inevitable cabin fever.

  1. Cleaning, Cooking, and Organizing: A good way to avoid being lethargic during this time is to occupy yourself away from work and/or school by keeping things neat, tidy, or clean in the house or apartment where you reside. Daily tasks like cooking meals, cleaning your room, or organizing your papers will definitely keep you busy. Currently, it’s ‘Spring cleaning’ season so you will have your work cut out for you these next few quarantined weeks if you have not cleaned your place since the beginning of the wintertime.

Who knows? If you found extra items or clothes around during cleanup time, you could perhaps donate them when you’re finished collecting all those things you may not need but may help out somebody else during this tough time. With restaurants closed for the time being and delivery every day an expensive proposition, now is the best time to crack open your old recipe book and take your cooking more seriously.

You may be able to eat healthier now more than ever with the added time to cook and prepare your meals in advance and it is a good way to bond if you have a family or a loved one with you. Organizing extends to your personal computer and devices as well to make sure your files, bills, and documents are in order. Don’t forget to take the time to give your phone, tablet, or laptop a good cleaning too because it is a germ magnet and it would be wise to keep it clean as much as possible.

  1. Get Some Exercise In: Gyms and fitness centers are closed. No more pools, saunas, or even Yoga classes. So, what do you do now? Well, it can be easy to give up on your fitness goals but luckily, we have the Internet and delivery services are still working. You can utilize both to keep working out as there are hundreds of home workout exercises and guides out there now. Most of the information is free to use and easily accessible especially with YouTube videos showing you exactly how to do these exercises.

I believe you don’t need much to do these workouts as most of them can be done just with your bodyweight when it comes to pull-ups, sit-ups, pushups, squats, crunches, etc. If you can spend the money, it doesn’t hurt to get some free weights or some barbells in order to add some weight to your exercises. You can also get creative by doing some Yoga and Meditation with just a simple mat.

Due to the Internet, you can look up practically anything fitness related to create a good 30 to 45-minute workout. As if that wasn’t enough, you can always use your body to move quickly with sprints, hill runs, jogs, or a brisk walk if you can get out of the house for a bit. It won’t be the same as going to a physical gym, which has a ton of equipment and a sauna or other great amenities but it’s better than nothing and it is relatively easy to make the most of it.

  1. Flex Your Creative Muscle: If you have some extra time on your hands now, put it to good use by being creative. Sit down and figure out how best you want to pass the time in a productive way. Perhaps you can learn an instrument, pick up a new language, or even write an eBook or an entire book. Harness that energy into action to make the most of your time spent indoors and without most of the distractions that we have in our normal daily lives.

In the next weeks and months, I am positive that there will be an absolute growth in creative pursuits, both online and offline. There are a number of skills and traits that you can work on almost always for free or if you spend money, it is likely be a worthwhile investment from the right teacher. It is also a great time to develop that business idea or side hustle you have been thinking about but never actually committed to. You can always bounce these ideas off your family and friends or if you are able to do so, try to find like-minded people through your network or your organizations to see what they think of your idea and if it has some potential.

Isaac Newton, for example, worked day and night, when a great plague was spreading around the world and due to the time he had to just sit, learn, and experiment, he was able to come up with the brilliant equations and inventions that helped invent the modern life that we have today. Even if you fail, it is better to have tried and done your best than to have wondered later on, what if?

We will all get through this difficult time. It will be a tragic time in human history, but you will be a stronger and more compassionate person at the other end of this pandemic. There are often things in life that happen that are out of our control. It sucks and it is demoralizing but you have to move on, move forward, and keep on moving. We have no choice but to move on and to make the most of the time that we are given. We owe it to ourselves, our family, and our community to be the best that we can be especially now. I hope you take this difficult time to be caring, be kind, and be productive. I wish you well and hope you are well.

Retaining The Ability to Connect

How many times have you been out, either alone or with a friend or family member, and you have noticed in the café or restaurant a couple or a group of people just staring at their phones rather than each other? I’ve noticed this occurring multiple times and more often than not in the past year or so. Now, it’s not great to be out in public on your own on your phone either but it seems rather ironic to be out in public with a friend or a family member and you are both on your phone at the same time rather than living in the moment and being engaged with each other instead of their device.

It’s one thing as well for friends to be on their phones at the same time perhaps to keep up with their other friends but it’s quite silly for me to see couples out in public staring down at their phones when they should be connecting with each other. What is the point of going out to a café or to a restaurant or any other public place if you would rather interact with your handheld device than the person sitting right in front of you?

I can see if one of the two or more people in the group need to respond or send a text, check on a work e-mail, or take an important call but it is quite ridiculous when both people or all people in the group have nothing better to do than to look at their phones. There are a number of ways that I want to suggest in this article on how to retain that important ability to connect with another person especially out in public rather than connecting on social media, be social yourself with the person(s) you are with.

1.The Lost Art of People Watching: There is really something to be said about just wondering what other people are doing and checking out how they are going about their daily lives. Now, I am not suggesting you and your group or friend(s) just stare at somebody and make them uncomfortable. That’s not it at all. What I would recommend is to really just watch how people go running, cook your food, clean up the streets, deal with other restaurant patrons, etc.

For example, if you are at a park with someone else, it’s nice to make conversation about the joggers, the musicians, the frisbee players, the traffic police, etc. It’s a good way to stay engaged in conversation without turning to the phone to be entertained. Watching the world go by is a pleasurable activity and it can make you appreciate the rhythms of daily life. You should not be ‘people watching’ so intently that you make those who know they are being watched notice you doing so! Try to do so casually and without staring too intently. That’s a good way to do it in the mature way.

2. Leave the Phones at Home: What better way to have a good time with somebody then to leave the phone at home. It can be mutually agreed upon beforehand and you can both figure out where to meet up the old-fashioned way: by consulting a map or checking Google before leaving the house. It is really easy to leave the phone at home when you have the logistics squared away in terms of time, date, and where to meet. It’s also easier by car as well when you can leave the phone in your car for the two or three hours you are spending with them and can come back to it later to help you navigate home.

This is a really underrated way of maintaining that personal connection with someone and also strengthening it by flexing that resistance muscle and resisting the temptation of the phone by putting it both out of sight and at least, temporarily out of mind. I think both of you will be glad to rid yourselves of the phone for a few hours or even a whole day and the conversation and the activity will be much more rewarding. You will also remember what happened a lot more because you just were that much more engaged in what was happening because that person and the activity you did together had your full and undivided attention.

3. One Phone, One Group: If you feel the need to compromise about phones in a group, a good way to fix the issue or at least put a stopgap to it is have one phone for everybody in the sense that you are using that phone for everybody to see or use such as making a quick phone call away from the group, checking out travel pictures together, or doing a fun game through an application. Instead of everyone bringing their phones to the group meetup, if one person does it, you’ll have to share and be social about it. Obviously, you do not want others to see your private text messages and contacts on your personal phone but there are ways to do it and still be secure in having others use it.

I really do suggest having some group games on there or using it for showing off pictures and talking about travel or activity plans that you have all done. Another way to be social about a phone is to hook it up to somebody’s speaker and listen to different music together. It can even be some kind of a game where each person chooses a different song in a circle-like setting and your friends or family have to guess the musical artist or the name of the song itself. Being social and using your phone do not have to be separate from each other but the best way to make that happen is to only have one phone per group rather than one phone per person if you want to keep that ability to connect.

4. Enjoy the Silence and Nature: If you have been out with someone or a group for a few hours and you all happen to run out of things to say to each other, don’t go back to the phone! Instead, simply enjoy the silence and each other’s company. You do not have to fill every waking moment together with a witty remark or a sarcastic joke. Sometimes, it’s nice to be alone in your thoughts, people watching together, or just living in the moment and enjoying the ambiance of the place where you are at. This also applies to enjoying nature especially if you are outdoors. You both or the group will not need your phones when you are listening to the birds chirping, watching the monkeys climb to the peak of the trees, or checking out the beautiful mountain or sea view vistas.

You may say, “well, Ben, how can I enjoy nature when I do not have my phone to take a picture of the beauty?” That’s a good question but there’s an easy and simple solution to that problem as well. It’s known as bringing a camera that you like and rely upon and practice taking real photographs. I think it’s often better to take pictures of nature and scenery with a real camera than your phone even though camera phones have become quite popular. Practicing your photography skills with a real camera is a great way to use the tip well and to your advantage.

Photography can be a group activity and will allow both of you or your whole group to take better pictures, enjoy the nature around you, and listen carefully for the silence of the world around you. Lastly, you do not always have to be talking with each other to be connected. That is a false construct invented by our culture really that you have to be engaged with each other socially by always talking. Friends and/or loved ones of many years know so much about each other that they can really be there with one another in silence without filling the void with a conversation 100% of the time.

5. Shame the Phone User(s): This tip will be the most controversial of my suggestions, but I stand by it as having done so myself on a few occasions. The best way to avoid two people from using their phone at one time is to shame politely the first person who pulls out their phone first. Now, ‘shame’ has a negative connotation as it should have in our culture but a little dose of shame in my opinion is not the worst thing in the world especially when what that person is doing is impolite or inconsiderate. If the person you are out with, especially on a date, is constantly checking their phone every five minutes or is not engaged with you socially, then you have the right to shame them for it and ask them to stop.

If they continue with that kind of behavior, instead of doing it right back to them and escalating the tensions, it would be best to just say goodbye and let them know that you don’t appreciate them being on their phone. There are sometimes in life when you have to be both direct and firm with those who are in your social circle, even friends and family members. Respect is a key component in any relationship so if that person doesn’t value you enough to put their phone away like you are for an hour or even more unless it’s an emergency, then they simply do not deserve your time or the money spent to hang out together. Shaming the phone user in public when you’re with them is principally about setting healthy boundaries which are key in our relationships.

Also, you should hold yourself to the same standards and put the phone away as well lest that person you’re with get offended, walk away, or shame you into being more socially conscientious. Turn the phone off, put it in a locker, tell them that text or Instagram message can wait but above all else, shame them politely and remind them that we should be connecting and enjoying each other’s company and not off in a virtual world with other people. Maintaining that sense of cordiality will ensure better relationships and less wasted time staring at your phones in public.

Our healthy and lasting relationships are a key part of our mental health and our outlook on life. I believe that social media is still making us less social and while these networks do connect people on the surface, they do not foster deep friendships or relationships. Social media are like the gateways to having connections with others but you and only you are responsible for fostering and harvesting those connections to grow and become deeply rooted over time. You and the other person(s) who want to connect must do your best to put your phones away and focus on connecting directly by following some or all of these tips I have suggesting especially keeping the phone out of sight and out of mind temporarily.

Flexing your willpower and retaining that ability to connect will make you a happier and a healthier person overall. Your attention span is likely to improve as well as your friendships and/or relationships. I also believe and the research would show that your anxiety, feelings of depression, or of loneliness will decrease the more time you spend connecting with a person in person instead of through a virtual network. This ability to retain deep connections with people is a profound struggle in this age of instant yet flighty connections.

There are easy ways to counteract this trend though by letting go of the temptation when possible, embracing the silence and the natural world, and by politely reminding the person(s) you are with how it is good social etiquette to give someone their undivided attention when you are together in a public place or setting. If you struggle or have a setback, do not beat yourself up too much about it. Keep doing your best, lessen your use of your phone in the first place, and let the people in your life know how much they mean to you by giving them more of your attention and your love.

Expectations vs. Reality

An important part of maturing and becoming a fully functional adult is to keep your expectations in check and to manage them as to not conflict with what the reality of the situation is. Keeping your expectations in check is difficult to do but it is necessary in order to not let an oversized ego, or arrogance, or selfishness keep you from becoming the person you should be. One has to always be prepared for reality to not line up with our initial expectations. You can never really be fully certain of how things in life are going to shape up to be. A true sign of maturity is wishing for the best but understanding that you could be in for disappointment and setbacks even when you think that everything can turn out fine.

The word ‘expectations’ can be synonymous with being ‘unrealistic’ because you are hoping for things to be better than average and to be better than you hoped they could be. Often times, things are about the same as you would expect or can even be worse if you set your expectations too high. Keeping your expectations in check will also to help keep both your emotions and feelings in check as well. There are a number of things one can do in order to measure expectations enough to keep them in line with reality. They include focusing on the present, cultivating patience, and taking the good with the bad. These three keys alone will help anybody’s reality win out over their expectations. While having expectations is not necessarily a bad thing, having too many expectations that are unrealistic or impede your ongoing hard work and efforts will make the reality of that situation worse. Keeping your expectations realistic is something we all must do as adults.

Focusing on the Present: Controlling what we can and not worrying about the things outside of our control goes a long way towards keeping our reality in line with what our expectations should be. Doting too much on the future without having a plan for today is a recipe for disaster in terms of not being able to meet your expectations. It is good to set goals and to set your sights high, but the efforts and the work must be there as well. If you are not working on your goals in the present, you can expect your reality to look differently in the future if you were not actively working towards achieving them in the here and now.

Day-to-day expectations that are measurable and quantifiable are more easily met rather than those that are months or even years away. You cannot be worried or distracted about what could happen three months from now, but you should rather focus on what you are doing now to increase your happiness and satisfaction. You can only control your actions and your behaviors, which will save you a lot of angst and anxiety when you focus on what can be controlled and to focus less on what is out of your control especially for what is still away on the horizon of your life for which you are totally unsure of what is to come. The older I get, the more I realize it is good to plan for the long-term, but to expect things to change the further away from your current present reality are. Focusing on things on a day-to-day basis is part of a recipe for fulfilled expectations and kept promises.

Cultivating Patience and Perspective: Being able to understand that life has both its good and bad events, and you never know how things are really going to shake out is a true sign of keeping your expectations in check. We tend to think a new city, a new job, a new house, more money will fulfill us but sometimes, our expectations can fall short because we set them so high. We sometimes do the opposite in terms of cooking a meal for family members, volunteering at a homeless shelter, cleaning the house, or buying a gym membership in that we think it will not be as fun or fulfilling in reality but those kind of activities end up fulfilling us more than the former. Obviously, we set our expectations high or low based on our personal histories, personal biases, and our own desires and goals.

However, regardless of what we think will be awesome or what we think will be crummy can balance out more if we are able to cultivate patience regarding how any of our life events will shape out. You may not be satisfied with something on day one but then really love it by day 100. When it comes to expectations vs. reality, you have to show patience regarding both because what you expect to be good can end up being bad and what you expect to be bad can really end up being good.

Having perspective on what is going on with our lives can help us as well because our reality may not be what we expect but we can express gratitude for what good things we have to balance out what disappointments or ills that have befallen us previously. If you can count your personal blessings each day, you will be happier with your reality and you can better measure your expectations. Knowing that your perspective on life is totally unique compared to everyone else’s is comforting because your reality is going to be different in many ways from your fellow family members, friends, or work colleagues.

What you are going through cannot be adequately compared to other people because their reality and their expectations are never going to be the same. You can only be patient, be grateful, and realize that you should put your life in perspective as much as you can to remember that life has its ups and downs, and you should never get too low or too high because of it. Everyone has their good days and their bad days, and you never really know what people are going through because everyone has a different reality and different expectations of who they are, what they expect, and who they hope to be.

Taking the Good with the Bad: As I mentioned earlier, reality can bite sometimes especially when your expectations were sky high so anything in life is not going to be as rosy as you first imagined it. Even if something awesome happens in your life and you feel like you’re walking on cloud nine, you can be sure that there will be some small annoyances that come with it. Nothing is ever 100% good, and nothing is ever 100% bad. Similar to walking on ‘Cloud Nine’, you could be ‘down in the dumps’, but realize that your pain is temporary, and nothing lasts forever. The highest high and lowest low will pass and most of life is somewhere in the middle for which you make the best of and strive to meet expectations that only you can hold yourself accountable to. You can’t hold others accountable for standards that they can’t reach as much as you want them to for your own peace of mind. The world does not work that way. You have to hold yourself accountable and be that positive example for others.

You are always in a constant battle of Reality vs. Expectations but in this case, there is not going to be a clear winner. Sometimes, life will exceed expectations, other times, life will fall short of your expectations. The key thing to keep in mind is how do you react to both successes and setbacks in a mature and clearheaded way. You can get discouraged or be ecstatic, but you have to remember that life is about having patience, keeping it all in perspective, taking the good with the bad, and always focusing on the present and the here and now over the past and the future. If you can do these things, regardless of when reality wins or when expectations win out, you will be the winner as well because you will have cultivated the emotions, habits, and overall maturity needed to make it through both life’s ups and its downs.

Traditions

Why are traditions important? Why do we continue to pass down certain rituals, celebrations, customs, etc. from generation to generation? This is not a simple question to answer but I’d like to discuss my reasoning as to why traditions are important and why they should stick around in this article. In this day and age, there seems to be a movement against traditions and a counter-movement to think only about the present and what’s to come in the future.

I think that this view on traditions is shortsighted and inconsistent with human nature. While not all traditions are sustainable, useful, conscientious, or inclusive, there are numerous reasons as to why traditions should stick around, and why people should embrace traditions as being apart of how they live their lives. While people love to look forward into the future, it’s important to heed the customs and the ways of the past.

By observing traditions and celebrating them at times, we connect ourselves to past generations and rekindle the flame of days gone by. This is especially pertinent when it comes to the traditions instilled within us by our families and our communities. If we choose not to uphold those traditions instilled in us by past generations of family and friends, then we are doomed to lose traditions and the value that they held in our hearts and in our minds.

Each person must decide how much to incorporate the traditions of the forefathers into their lives and to what degree. However, to completely disavow of those traditions that lift the human spirit and are positive, and rewarding is to disregard one’s ancestry and upbringing in a sense. Not all traditions should make it from one generation to another but if there are traditions that are meaningful to you, and connect you to the past in a good manner, then those traditions should be continued and passed on to the next generation if that is the road you wish to take.

Having a tradition or traditions also helps you to create memories whether its’ with acquaintance, friends, or family. The memories around traditions are likely to be good ones and you’ll look back on them one day thinking about how special it was to celebrate or observe that tradition with the people you most care about in the world. While the tradition may only take an hour, a day, or a week, the memories of it will stay with you for a lifetime.

Also, it’s important to remember that traditions only come around every now and then whether it’s once a year or sometimes less than that so it gives you something to look forward to. Traditions give people a chance to relax, to enjoy, to reflect, and to be at ease in their lives surrounded by people who feel the same way. While the planning and the execution of traditions can be stressful and filled with anxiety, the payoff is worth it in the fact that you’re carrying on what’s been done for years, decades, or centuries beforehand, and that fact is something to really be proud of. Good and worthwhile traditions will likely lead you and others to count down the weeks and days until you can observe, celebrate, and reflect upon the special occasion.

It can be very difficult to get family and friends together under the same roof and near impossible especially if you live in different states or in different countries. Traditions give families an excuse to get together, laugh, talk, eat good food, and enjoy time together. Once your family starts a shared tradition together, it can be hard to let go of it. When traditions are observed, everybody has a role to play so it gives a chance for family members to connect with each other by having a personal stake in making sure that the tradition is observed in the correct manner. The ability to bring families together is a beautiful thing in life and sometimes it is only possible through the observance of a shared tradition. It can be difficult for family members to agree on everything but it’s likely that the thing they’ll all have in common is a desire to keep the tradition going, and make it a successful one.

Having a sense of identity is another reason why traditions are powerful. By connecting people to ideals, values, and beliefs, greater than themselves, your identity can truly feel whole. Being able to belong to a certain group, or a certain place can be quite healthy for most people, and to celebrate a healthy tradition as a group can really help to create a good sense of identity within an individual. It can be easy to lose your sense of identity nowadays, but by tying your identity to a set of values and ideals related to a group or your family through different traditions can help you feel like a whole person.

In a world where the present and the future take precedence, traditions can connect us deeply to those who came before us and to the past itself. Traditions from the past are important to preserve and uphold, and it’s a way to connect generations to each other. For myself, my traditions involve thinking about those who came before me and the sacrifices and struggles they went through in their own lives. Traditions are always passed down from generation to generation so that others and I in my family could celebrate and observe the traditions that are rich in history, religion and culture. If traditions are not followed and maintained in the current generation, then they are doomed to die out before being passed on to the next generation. If you or other family members refuse to pass on traditions to a member of the next generation, they will go extinct one way or another.

Finally, not all traditions are worth keeping or observing. Certain traditions can be harmful and carry a heavy height that people should not be forced to burden themselves with. Not every tradition created by humans is worthwhile, fair, or just. You don’t need to follow traditions if they don’t align with your moral conscience. Traditions can be good or bad, and they reflect upon our human nature.

The beauty of traditions is that you are given the choice, which traditions you would like to uphold to preserve and pass on to other people. If a tradition is aligned with the core values, beliefs that you have as an individual, then you should feel at ease with continuing it into the future. However, you should not seek to force your traditions on other people, and you should not preach about the superiority of your traditions when compared to the traditions of others. When it comes to traditions, use your best judgment and figure out which ones would be best to observe and celebrate with your family and friends.

Our ties to the past whether its’ through our ancestors, our family history, or our understanding of the world as it once was, is tied to our traditions. If you decide to forgo all traditions, then you are doomed to forget the past. Having a connection to the past through our traditions is a powerful thing and being able to celebrate them in a healthy manner should be encouraged. The memories we make with family and friends, the identity we gain from them, and the values and beliefs we pass on to the next generation make traditions a beautiful part of our existence on this planet. Whether its’ sitting down to a yearly Thanksgiving dinner, going to church weekly, or marching in a parade to celebrate your heritage and culture, traditions are apart of both who we are now and who we once were.


You may ask, how did this tradition get started? I’ll tell you…I don’t know, but it’s a tradition!” -Fiddler on the Roof

Why You Should Learn to Cook in Your 20’s

You’ve got the good job. You live in a nice apartment. You are able to move out of your parents’ house. You’re lucky enough to consider yourself to be pretty independent and self-sufficient in your 20’s, which isn’t so easy to come by these days. However, have you learned how to cook? Can you feed yourself without needing to go to a restaurant or to order from Domino’s?

I consider that being able to learn how to cook is one of the most important skills any young adult should have a good proficiency in by the time they turn 30. You don’t need to be on the level of Anthony Bourdain or Emeril Lagasse but you should be able to know a decent amount of recipes and be able to cook yourself a couple of homemade meals each week. There are a number of good reasons as to why it’s important to learn how to cook in your 20’s and I’ll cover a few of them in this post.

1.) You’ll save money.

Regardless of where you’re living in the world, it’s often the case that buying groceries from the local market or supermarket and cooking meals for yourself will be less expensive than going out to eat for lunch or dinner or even both meals. The costs really add up after a while from eating out all of the time or from ordering a lot of meals to be delivered to your door. In your 20’s, many people are trying to save up money for graduate school, or to buy a car or to lease an apartment so if you’re able to buy food for yourself and then cook it, you’re way ahead of the game and you’ll probably save a good amount of money each month. Any kind of savings that you can create in your 20’s will make a sizable impact down the road and cooking your own meals is one of the best ways to have a positive impact on your personal budget each month.

2.) It’s healthier for you.

Let’s be honest: ordering out or eating out at a restaurant are not the healthiest options to do repeatedly. While there are healthy options out there, they are usually the exception and not the rule. Eating a takeout pizza with extra cheese from Domino’s is simply not as preparing a fresh salad from scratch for your dinner. Unless you go to a higher-end restaurant, a lot of restaurants these days use a lot of sugar, salt, or other preservatives that can lead you to put on some extra weight if you’re not careful. Knowing how to cook forces you to create your own daily diet without having any outside influence. You’ll be more responsible for your intake of different foods and learning how to properly balance your diet with fruits, vegetables, dairy products, grains, meats, etc. This is a skill that is better to be learned in your 20’s so that it can be a healthy habit that can stay with you for the rest of your life. You’re making a conscious choice every time you prepare and cook your own food and that’s a great skill to have.

3.) You’ll become more independent and self-reliant.

Being comfortable with your cooking skills and knowing that you’ll never go hungry or rely on others to cook your food is a great thing for your self-esteem. The confidence that you’ll gain as you get better at cooking is something that can transfer over to your parts of your life. It’s a skill that you can share with other people whether it’s your friends, your parents or other members of your family. A lot of your 20’s is learning how to function as an individual who is independent from other people and one of the best ways to do that is to learn how to cook a good meal. It may take time and a lot of effort but the rewards will be ever present throughout your life. You can make other people in your life happier and healthier by cooking for them and they’ll appreciate the fact that you can take care of yourself in the kitchen.

4.) It’s easier now than ever.

With modern technology like the stove, the gas oven, and the many utensils and kitchenware you can buy for pretty cheap, learning how to cook is easier now than ever. In addition, any aspiring cook has the entirety of the Internet at their disposal. Whether it’s learning the basics for the first time or trying out a new recipe, there is a limitless amount of information out there that can help you achieve your cooking goals. There are hundreds of videos on YouTube that can walk you through a recipe step by step and there are thousands of unique recipes that you can look up on a moment’s notice through Google that can make cooking more fun and creative.

Centuries ago, cooking food was much more of a daily ordeal with the average meal taking a full day to prepare but due to the advent of modern technology, it really is easier now than ever. For example, I learned of a website recently called Blue Apron, which actually delivers all of the fresh ingredients for the different recipes you want to make without you leaving your apartment or house to scavenge for the ingredients at the local market. There are also a number of companies out there such as Whole Foods that can deliver all of your groceries to your door making it even easier and more cost effective to cook your own meals.

5.) It makes you more creative.

With thousands of recipes to choose from and with different ingredients to mix and match with your favorite foods, cooking is really an art just like painting or music. You can experiment as much as you want and really tailor your meal to your own preferences. When you order food at a restaurant, it’s really up to the chef’s own taste on how he puts your meal together. When you cook for yourself, you’re giving back control to yourself. You can work with your hands and you can slice and dice as you please.

While you may struggle at first with getting the recipes down to a science, you’ll keep getting better and better the more you practice and that’s what makes it so fun. Even if you burn the chicken or undercook the spaghetti, you can learn from your mistakes and know what to do better the next time. Cooking is a skill that really utilizes both your mind and your body. While it takes a lot of effort and time to master, the results are often delicious.

Put away the Chinese takeout menu, and put that apron on. It’s time to take these reasons into consideration as you begin your cooking career. Even if you’re a single guy or gal living in the heart of the city with restaurants abound, you should still give yourself the joy of cooking. You’ll thank yourself later when you have a wife or children to cook for at home and you can put together a meal that’s more than just scrambled eggs or spaghetti. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to make myself dinner.

A Chance Encounter

When it comes to traveling, most people often remember the places they’ve been, the food they ate, and the fun activities they did during their trips. However, what often gets lost in the shuffle is the ability to appreciate and remember the interesting people you meet during your travels, usually at the most random of times and in the most random of places. The best part of traveling can often be those chance encounters on the road that lead to you gaining a new friend, who might be a local from the country you’re visiting or another fellow foreigner who’s exploring the same places as you by coincidence.

One such encounter happened to me very recently during my first trip to Peru. I got up very early at around four in the morning to catch the train from the Peruvian village of Ollantaytambo to the town of Machu Picchu, which is located a couple of hundred feet below the famous ruins of the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu. Running on just five hours of sleep and anxious to make sure that I had all my paperwork in store for the visit to Machu Picchu, I was not in a talkative mood and feeling pretty lethargic.

I boarded the train at around 5 am and was even more dismayed by the fact that I was assigned an ‘aisle’ seat instead of my usual preference for a ‘window’ seat. Rather than being able to view the beautiful, cascading Andean mountains and the river running through them beneath the train tracks, I would only be able to glance a peak of the scenery by arching my head over, behind, or in front of the person next to me who would soon be occupying my prized window seat.

Still though, I reminded myself internally to not be such a downer and to be grateful that I would soon be departing for one of the wonders of the modern world, which very few people get to visit during their lifetimes. I am also a big fan of train travel, and Peru Rail provided quite a comfortable ride to and from the town of Machu Picchu. Eventually, a man carrying two big toys in his hands asked in Spanish, “Con permiso” politely as he motioned that he was coming through to sit down in the open window seat next to me. I obliged politely and looked on with curiosity at he placed these large two toys on the tray table in front of him nonchalantly.

I thought to myself at the time that it was a curious sight to see a grown man holding two toys that a child would play with, and to especially be sitting by himself with them and not with a son or daughter nearby. The toys themselves captured my attention because they were two of my favorite toys that I owned when I was a child myself. If you have ever seen the ‘Toy Story’ movies, you’ll know that those characters were popular when I was growing up in the 1990’s and even until today due to the series’ recent surge in popularity.

I loved ‘Toy Story’ as a kid and I still do especially given the fact that I saw the movie ‘Toy Story 4’ a couple of years ago and that was just before I graduated from college. The two toys themselves were replicas of the two main characters, Buzz Lightyear and Sheriff Woody, who I had owned in my younger days. I spent many afternoons watching Buzz lift off and having Woody swing his plastic lasso around like a real cowboy would do. Some toys, even when you’re an adult, hold a deep connection for you and bring back a lot of memories that have since receded a long time ago.

Now, suddenly, my interest had been peaked in the man sitting next to me due to the toys that he was bringing with him to Machu Picchu. I started by telling him in Spanish how I used to love playing with those same toys of Buzz and Woody when I was a child. He was very friendly in responding to my curiosity and stated that; yes, he likes the toys a lot too and bought them for his two-year old son recently for his birthday. That put in place another piece of the puzzle for me as I realized that this man was not traveling to Machu Picchu by himself but was sharing this unique experience with his wife and his children.

For being such an early time in the morning to have a conversation, the man whose name I learned was Jorge (first name changed for privacy reasons) was polite, friendly, and patient with my imperfect Spanish. It’s one thing to speak in a foreign language when you’re fully awake in the middle of the afternoon and it’s a much more challenging task to be coherent in a foreign language at 5:30 in the morning when you are lethargic and groggy. However, I was able to communicate with Jorge pretty easily and he was able to practice some of his English as well. Like myself, Jorge also works in the education sector. He is a secretary at a primary / secondary school in Peru, and has been doing this job for over ten years. He is passionate about education and was curious about my experiences as an English teaching fellow in Medellin, Colombia.

From what I could tell about Jorge, he was a caring husband and father. He showed me pictures of his two young children on his iPhone with the traditional ceremonies that they would go through at their primary school. It was pretty interesting to see how they would dress up these little kids in traditional Peruvian clothing for these school events. Jorge must have taken a liking to me because even when one of the cabin crew for the Peru Rail train asked Jorge if he would like someone to move from the other row so he could sit with his wife and his children, he politely declined as I think he was really enjoying the conversation we were having. It also didn’t hurt that his family members were only sitting a row behind him so he could easily reach them if there was anything they needed, including if his little boy happened to want to play with Buzz and Woody again.

It was extremely interesting for me to hear from Jorge as a local and native citizen of Peru about his experiences visiting different parts of his country. He gave a lot of interesting insights about the regional differences between food, people, and the culture depending on where in Peru you were visiting. On this recent trip, I was only able to explore Lima and Cusco, but due to Jorge’s recommendations, I have a pretty good idea of where I would go in Peru for my next visit. I was happy to chat with Jorge about what it was like to grow up and live in New York, as well as talking about popular American music and movies that we both have a mutual fondness for. Despite having been born thousands of miles from each other on different continents and with different cultural backgrounds, we were able to bond as human beings because our similarities in terms of personality and interests were greater than our inherent differences of culture and country of birth.

Perhaps most notable for me about getting to know Jorge was how mature he was for his age. Jorge is only six years older than me but has a steady job, a wife and two young children. A lot of people my age and older are forgoing those traditional responsibilities of life but it says a lot about a man who provides for his family and is able to do things for them like take them on a trip to Machu Picchu. Men like Jorge are admirable in that they are responsible, mature, and do not shy away from their commitments. While all men carve their own path in life, they should try to exemplify the same traits as my new Peruvian friend Jorge has done. Maturity, responsibility, and a kindness to strangers like myself; these are the best traits to emulate when you witness them in another person. That’s how you become a true adult and someone who can be the leader of a family. It’s easy to say that my hour and a half spent talking to Jorge taught me more than just about old toys, it taught me a lot about adulthood and what it means to be a good man.

As we pulled into the Machu Picchu station, Jorge was very gracious and said that if I ever wanted to experience the best of Peruvian cuisine in Lima, where he and his family live, I was more than welcome to join them in the future. I told them that I would be happy to extend the same offer to them if they were ever in Medellin or even in New York if I was back there again. We exchanged our Facebook information, said our goodbyes, and parted ways as we both left the train to our final destinations. I continued on to my full-day visit to Huayna Picchu / Machu Picchu (which was amazing by the way, but that’s for another blog post).

You may ask by now if you’ve read this whole post: Ben, why did you decide to tell me about a chance encounter with a Peruvian guy on a train to Machu Picchu? The answer to your question is quite simple: It’s because traveling isn’t just about eating new foods, seeing cool places, or doing awesome activities. I enjoy all of the above and then some but traveling is also about getting to know the locals like Jorge and learning more about their country and their culture from their perspective.

Traveling is and always has been about broadening one’s horizons and getting outside of your comfort zone. For me, I’ve always been on the shy side personally but by traveling especially by myself, I’m forced to meet new people and start a conversation. I can only say that it’s done wonders for me in terms of building my confidence, improving my self-reliance, and lowering my anxiety when it comes to meeting new people. Traveling is more than just the experiences you’ve had and the places you’ve seen but it’s also about the new people you meet. Your memories will include the people you meet and you’ll look back on those same memories very fondly one day. You may never see that person again but at least you’ll know that they made your trip a little bit more special and rewarding because you met them in the first place.

I hope that as a reader of my blog that you’ll take this story to heart and remember to not be shy when it comes to meeting new people, regardless of whether you’re traveling or are at a party where you don’t know anybody there. The best stories come out of those experiences where you can met someone cool or unique and have a good time getting to know them. You may even be able to make a lifelong friend just by being willing to open your mouth and make the words come out.

The Season for Gratitude

2014-11-26-gratitude2
“What are you grateful for?”

Gratitude is an important attribute that often gets overlooked nowadays with the fact that the instant gratification and fast-paced living of our culture takes precedence. However, in light of the recent terrible and horrific events that have occurred in Beirut, Paris, Ankara, and elsewhere, it’s important to take note before the upcoming holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the upcoming New Year of what we should be thankful for having in our lives.

It is relatively easy for people to take for granted the luxuries and conveniences that we have in the modern world. Most of us should look inwards to realize just how lucky and fortunate we are. There are people within our own country and other countries around the world that still struggle with poverty, homelessness, disease, violence, war, environmental changes, and terrorism. While we may not all suffer from the same problems depending on the country, we share the planet together and the empathy to understand that the whole of humanity is still in this together. I plan to use the upcoming holiday season, especially Thanksgiving, to reflect on what I am thankful for in this world and to reflect on this past year.

That is the true spirit and meaning of these holidays. It is the chance to spend time with loved ones, enjoy great food and drinks, but to also reflect and think of how fortunate you may be in this crazy world of ours. The new iPhone or the next gadget is not what makes the holiday season special. It’s our strong connection to our friends and family, our ability to reflect on the recent changes of our lives, and to be thankful for how good the world can be sometimes regardless of how ugly it can look to us at other times.

Here are the reasons why I’m thankful in 2015:

-I have a great family and a solid group of friends who will have my back and support me in whatever I choose to pursue, even if I decide to move halfway around the world on a whim. My parents, my brother, and other close family and friends help me to be a better person and inspire me to achieve more and set my goals higher.

-I live in a great country, which affords me a lot of opportunities if you work for them and have an open mind. It may have its flaws like any country does in this world but I’m proud to be a citizen of this nation and I’m grateful to have been born and grown up here.

-I have access to clean water, electricity, good food, and great health facilities that allow me to stay healthy and live well compared to others in this world that aren’t as fortunate.

-I can read countless books, educate myself in various subjects, and access the Internet to help me understand the world better and learn more to obtain more knowledge, make myself smarter. I don’t know what I would do without access to the Internet but for countless millions, they still aren’t able to take advantage of this precious resource.

-I enjoy making money from a profession that helps people in different countries around the world and it is a fulfilling job that I really like and has benefited my life in different ways.

-I am glad that I started this blog of mine two months ago, which has helped me to develop my writing abilities and make this hobby of mine a reality. I have some big plans for this website in 2016 and I am looking forward to sharing my future plans with my loyal readers very soon.

-I am happy to have had the unique ability to travel to many countries around the world so far at my age and I have learned so much from those experiences. It’s provided me great insight about different histories, cultures, foods, and societies, which is why it is so important to get your passport and get out there. Not many people are able to travel unfortunately and I hope that will change in the future as the world becomes more and more globalized. However, I’m not done traveling yet and I am looking forward to continuing my adventures in 2016 and beyond.

I will be taking a bit of a hiatus from my blog over the next two weeks to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with my family. In the meantime, check out my blog entry archives, look at my travel photography, and get in touch with me if you would like to.

I wish my readers in the United States a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving(!). For my international readers from around the world, I encourage and implore you all to realize the importance of having gratitude within you and to share it with your fellow man and woman.

 

 

The Joy of Reunions

We weren't quite as rowdy as these guys but they knew how to make a reunion special.
We weren’t quite as rowdy as these guys but they knew how to make a reunion special.

It is a very underrated yet a very joyous feeling to be able to meet up with friends who you have not seen in a long time. It is almost like you are meeting them again for the first time or that sometimes it feels like they never left your life in the first place. Unfortunately, people who you have met and befriended before in your life sometimes move around the country or around the world and it’s possible to lose touch with them.

I was lucky enough to see close friends of mine again in New York City a few weekends ago after not seeing them for over a year or so since I was overseas teaching English in Istanbul, Turkey. It was an ecstatic feeling being able to see all of these friends of mine who I had not seen in a long time and the memories came flooding back to me like it was just yesterday.

 The idea of a reunion plays into the very nature of human beings and how we are social animals above all else. We urge to be connected with each other especially after having not seen one another in a while. When we do reconnect, it’s like we had never gone our separate ways in life and the memories come flooding back. My experiences in life simply wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t have good friends to share with it.

In all honestly, the people who you surround yourself throughout your life affect the experiences you have more than you would think. I believe that life experiences have a peculiar importance in not going through them by yourself because if you don’t have anyone to do it with, how will you ever be able to understand the significance of the event or the meaningfulness of it at the time. This goes along with traveling abroad, eating, drinking, dancing, and any other social activity that we human beings engage in throughout the course of our lives and they should be shared with others above all else.

 Reunions can be spontaneous and you never when they’re going to happen again. It is important to savor those chances to meet up with those people again that you have not seen in a long time. That way you will always know that there will be someone or a group of people in different parts of the country or in different areas of the world that you might be able to see again if you ever see yourself relatively close to them geographically.

 During this recent reunion, I felt many positive emotions brimming to the surface and I remember trying to savor each of those elated moments that night. I enjoyed every laugh, every inside joke, every story we each shared together and it really made me very happy and content to be able to see these friends again. It made me want to keep in touch with them even more and to see their faces again as well if the opportunity ever presented itself. Distance and time are strong barriers but can be overcome quite easily in this day and age if you try hard enough. It is safe to say that I am already looking forward to the next reunion.