Simple Date Ideas

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day arriving, this post is centered around relationships; and meant to generate some non-boring, no pressure, easy, date nights for you and your sweetie, or even friends if you are rocking the single life! Covid has forced us to get creative and enjoy the small things since the typical dates like going to a movie, or meeting up for a drink haven’t been a consistent option. Dating in general, let alone Valentine’s Day, can be a stressful. The pressure to be in a relationship if you’re not, wanting to keep your relationship interesting, where to go on the first few dates or even the stress of wanting to find the perfect box of chocolates (mine would be all of the coconut filled ones…unpopular opinion, I know) for your significant other is real! Just like the Bachelor thrives off creating dreamy dates that aren’t realistic in real life at all, sometimes we (girls) like to think of super romantic Pinterest-esque dates, and they create so much pressure that it’s just awkward. These date ideas are casual ways to spend time together, but in reality, may be more enjoyable and stress free than a dreamy date because they eliminate all the little stressors we amplify in our heads such as who pays, what to wear, or deciding what movie to watch…we all know the awkward back and forth that follows, so why not just get rid of it?


1. Restaurant check list

Yes, going out to dinner is a very typical date, but everyone’s gotta eat! Something that Jeff and I have enjoyed doing since we started dating was making a physical list of all the restaurants we’ve never been to, and slowly visiting each one. Having a list eliminates the “I don’t care” conversation that we all hate to have. We just pick a place from the list and go! We’ve had some great experiences with this-one being dining on the “pawtio” at The Block in St. Louis Park, where dogs are allowed to dine-aka-their owners can order them a meal to eat in a bowl and eat alongside their humans. While I could gaze at Jeff all day, the wiener dog eating a bowl of chicken and wild rice had most of my attention that night. Places like these, where they have a unique quirk or additional things to do, can be a great date spot for first dates, or new couples. In this case having some pet therapy helps to relieve the awkwardness of trying to eat in a not embarrassing way all while thinking of something to talk about besides how nice the weather is. If it is not a first date, the payment part can be uncomfortable, even for couples that have been dating a while! I know that I feel guilty every time Jeff pays for me still because it gets expensive for the guy to pay every time. We now play credit card roulette and let the waiter/ress choose the credit card, or just alternate who pays. We’ve visited some great spots with good food and fun atmospheres which is why this is one of my favorite things to do!

2. Make a family recipe together

Food seems to be a common theme in dates- but that is perfectly ok! It is something everyone in the entire world has in common. Cooking or baking together is a stress free date that promotes communication, helping each other out, and it is fun to enjoy the end product together afterwards. I loved sharing a family recipe with Jeff because it added much more meaning to the date than making boxed Kraft mac n cheese (unless you and your date met by reaching for the same unicorn shaped noodles special edition kraft in aisle 6). Whatever you make does not have to be anything fancy or extravagant, and honestly it is probably better that way so you don’t end up bickering about how well done the steaks should be. Jeff and I made and decorated my Gram’s sugar cookies together, and it was probably one of my favorite dates so far because it was different than anything we had done. We had a great time roasting each other about how badly we decorated a cookie, throwing flour at each other, and straying from using the cookie cutters to try to create shapes of our own. Whoever said that guys don’t belong in the kitchen was mistaken!

3. Target date challenge

Have I actually done this yet? No. Did I see this on Tik Tok and instantly want to do it? Yes. I don’t know anyone who does not like roaming the Target aisles up and down, and this date is a great combination of seeing how well you know your SO/friend, competitiveness, and resourcefulness. The challenge is to create a list of things to get for the other person in a given time (ex: find something red, find their favorite snack, find something to help them relax, etc…) and you are only allotted a fixed amount to spend – usually $10-$20, but the smaller your budget is, the more interesting and weird things get! You then have the given amount of time to frantically rummage around Target to find all the items on the list. Once this is done, take it all home and take turns going through the list and presenting what you got the other person. If they get you a bunch of things that you actually like, it is a win win because it shows they know you, AND you get to keep it all!

4. Activity or place swap

When I think of this one, I think of my parents. My Dad introduced my mom (from Kentucky) to Minnesota and all that comes with it, as well as her first REAL winter coat, while they were dating. In return, my mom shared her love for Kentucky & UK basketball and dribbled circles around my hockey dude of a Dad who couldn’t shoot a basketball to save his life. While sharing some interests is important, I would find it incredibly creepy if the person I’m dating’s favorite sport was gymnastics, they loved the color maroon, had a blog, was a cardio junkie, loved traveling to Danville, KY, couldn’t stand golf, had a word find addiction, and a majority of their favorite TV shows were about dramatic girls fighting about being there for the wrong reasons (if you know, you know). Where’s the fun in being exactly the same? Part of the fun of dating is getting to show the other person something or somewhere you’re passionate about with hopes you can share that together, and also getting to branch out only to get knocked off any high horse you were on (my mom described my dad’s basketball skills as “shooting bricks”).

In addition, doing an activity that you know one of you already likes doing eases the pressure of the “what do you want to do today?” followed by the classic “I dunno” or “I don’t care” conversation tennis. When Jeff and I started dating, it started off pretty small. I took him to Lake Harriet for dinner outside at the bandshell, and on the converse I watched Sunday football with him, aka fell asleep…it’s the thought that counts. As time has gone on, he’s brought me to his hometown, Windom, to spend time with his family and show me where he grew up. Knowing that it was meaningful to him and was a part of him made the experience so much more special than if we decided to go to a random place for the weekend. I can’t wait to take him to Kentucky someday, or to a gymnastics meet with me so he can witness that side of me, too. The activity swap is no big task- maybe it is going to your favorite hole in the wall ice cream shop, going to a Twin’s game together, or watching your favorite movie. Opposites do attract in most of these cases!

5. Ice skating

As cliche and Minnesotan as this sounds, it is such a good date idea for several reasons. First, it does not require spending hard earned money on mediocre food with Covid plexiglass to create a “romantic” ambiance with your date. Second, it is completely different than your typical date such as watching a movie or staring at each other eating food. Third and most importantly, embarrassing yourself together is great bonding. Let’s be honest- there is a solid 50% chance that one of you has not skated, is not good at it, or will eat the ice at some point in the day (I did). There is nothing more humbling than watching someone who says they are a pro, or a manly man, get on ice skates only to flail around until they splay face down across the ice. At that point, there is nothing to do but laugh, especially if you both are terrible skaters and look like you’re shuffling around stripped of your athleticism. Psychology shows that hazing creates a bonding feeling due to shared embarrassment and experience, and while ice skating is not anywhere near hazing, it may feel like it and create the same shared bonding experience if you are absolutely terrible or take a tumble in front of the person you want to impress. But in the chance you both are great skaters, it makes for a cute date 🙂

6. Tour your own town

I have come to realize how terrible of a Minnesotan I am. I have never been to the sculpture garden, boundary waters, popular lakes, or well-known breweries. I barely go downtown, uptown, or really to any town other than where I live. It wasn’t until this year that Jeff and I ventured to the Stone Arch Bridge to make it my first time, and it was one of my favorite memories of 2020 because it turned out to be just as great as it looked on Instagram. Sometimes I simply forget that places exist and that I can go see what I’ve always wanted to see whenever I want, I just don’t! This is why it makes for a great date idea to go do and see the things you probably should have seen, but seem “touristy” to do as a native. Become a tourist for the day, and go to that coffee shop everyone posts about on Instagram, that one wall with the mural everyone poses with, that iconic sculpture 10 minutes away from you, or that popular brunch spot. Everyone’s got a list of places they’re wondering about or have never seen, but forget about them when free time arises- make your list and go!

7. Start a show together

As I always say, it is the little things that do it for me. As a kid, I remember trying to take my shower in between commercials so I wouldn’t miss any of the new episode of “American Idol,” and hearing my brother yell “IT’S BACK ON!” when I failed to complete my mission to my pjs. Even now, I get way too excited for The Bachelor to roll around every Monday, and new episodes of This Is Us on Tuesdays; but I can’t be the only one that plans their weeknight around an hour in front of the TV. Jeff and I have made “Bachelor Monday” a thing- and it is something I look forward to because: 1. I like the trashy-ish show, but mostly: 2. It is a guaranteed and planned two hours with Jeff. It is something we have in common now and can chat about, but also time to catch up with each other. While TV dates may not seem the most romantic, starting a new Netflix show together, or planning a date night around a show in live time (yes, that is still a thing!) is just as much of a date as a dinner date. It is something constant to look forward to and anticipate every week. If anything, it may be more enjoyable after a long day than the typical image of a date because it doesn’t require reservations, fancy food, parting with your paycheck, or wearing jeans!

8. Work out together

When I think of workout dates, I liken it to the adult version of the playground dates I’d have in elementary school where we’d do monkey bars together. Working out together does not mean running 10 miles or squatting side by side- unless that’s what you’re into! Most of the time, I’m not even working out with Jeff, we are just there doing our own workouts at the same time. Being someone that actually likes to go to the gym with my significant other; it’s nice to have that extra social facilitation since I will always try to impress my man as long as I live and his presence makes me run a solid 2 mph faster. I enjoy the time together between sets, the sly knucks exchange in passing, or trying out new machines/showing each other tricks we can do (like I used to do on the playground). If working out still isn’t your thing- try a class together! Try a yoga class, HIIT class, or Zumba- and if they don’t know what Zumba is, don’t tell them until you get there and watch the look on their face when they realize what their hips will be doing. On the flip side, if one of you is into lifting, learn/teach how to do the basics. Creating or maintaining healthy habits together as a couple is so important and makes it a lot more fun when you have someone there to do it with you! Workouts are one of those “everyday” things, and being able to do those everyday things together shows just how compatible you are or how you work as a team. But my favorite part? Being perched on the stair stepper while watching Jeff doing bench presses followed by a wink from across the gym all while other girls are checking out his biceps- he’s mine, ladies.

9. Be seasonally cliche

As the seasons change, so do the cliche date ideas. I’m talking about your Pinterest -looking apple orchard, pumpkin patch, hot cocoa drinking, christmas cookie making, beach day, 4th of July fireworks watching, picture taking kind of dates. I find it funny how everyone thinks they’re never going to do those types of dates but ultimately want to…me included. In my opinion, they’re like sitting ducks; dates basically already planned for you, you just have to go do them! For the very few cliche dates I have done, I have enjoyed them a lot! There is nothing wrong with hopping on the bandwagon of all the things we see on Instagram. There’s a reason we see so many cliche dates…it’s because people enjoy doing them! Take advantage of the path paved before you and go wear your flannels together by an apple tree, drive through the Christmas lights, visit the seasonal ice maze, eat your corn at the State Fair, sit on the beach with your drinks, and soak in all the unoriginality.

10. Coffee walk

Just like we all share the commonality of food; walking is another commonality most have, as well as the love or withdrawal symptoms sans coffee. Taking two everyday things, and putting them together, makes for an easy and casual date. I think sometimes when trying to think of date ideas, we totally overlook the simple things that we can do. I like this idea for first dates because a walk allows for conversation to happen without any pressure to always say something- there’s dogs to look at, lakes to gaze at, or someone tripping over a branch on a run (true story). Being able to just be with someone in silence and enjoy the surroundings and company is important, too. For couples that have been dating a while, this date is still is relevant because it is undivided attention to just catch up and talk about things you probably don’t have the time to talk about. The great thing about walking, is that you can do it anywhere (obvious statement but sometimes I forget that I can drive places just to go for a walk). Pick a location to take a stroll through, pick up some coffee along the way, and enjoy each other’s company…but don’t pick a long route, we all know what coffee does to us.


This definitely was not one of my most insightful posts, but that was kind of the point! My favorite dates to go on are the simple, casual, stress free, everyday things we do in life because that IS life. When you are with the right person, all of those things become so much better and even things like going to the grocery store for bagels become fun (or maybe it’s just me and my little things again). As time in relationships go on and the honeymoon phase supposedly wears off, people forget to date each other as weird as that sounds, and I think it’s because we have this idea that all dates need to be fancy. Once you change your perspective to seeing everyday simple things as dates too, or simplifying stressful processes, then it is impossible to stop dating each other! Happy Valentine’s Day and happy dating!

~Lauren

Christmas: Then and Now

Let me set the tone right off the bat here: this post has absolutely nothing to do with Covid because I would like to keep Christmas untouched by it on this blog even though in reality, Covid has invaded Christmas’ personal space entirely. Instead, this post has everything to do with holiday norms and traditions when we were youngins versus the adult versions now because I have come to learn over the years that it slowly drifts away from what it used to be without even realizing it. This isn’t to say it is totally a bad thing…it’s just different. Most of you can probably relate to some of these things I’m about to share, but if not, think about your then versus now. I hope this brings you some laughter and a solid five minutes without thinking about the disease that shall not be named.


Making Christmas Cookies

Then:

Back in the good old days of Barbies and cartwheels; my mom, Christopher, and I dedicated one night to turn the kitchen into a mess of dough, flour, and sprinkles. My mom would make the dough, while my brother and I suited up in our aprons with our mini rolling pins and cookie cutters at the counter ready to fill the special Christmas cookie jar with cookies from our family’s secret sugar cookie recipe. While Christopher was pretty tidy and good at his job, I on the other hand, got flour everywhere it shouldn’t be, ate probably way too much dough, made blue trees, yellow mistletoes, and angels that were too thin and burned alive in the oven. I loved the quality time with my mom and my brother and was so proud of my ugly looking cookies. I protected them so no one else could eat them but me. The best part about it back then, was that my definition of making cookies was doing nothing except the decorating.

Now:

I wasn’t even sure if I was going to make cookies this year because I realized the ingredients, sprinkles, and cookie cutters still lived at my parent’s house and I would actually have to make the dough myself rather than have it magically appear before me like it used to. I convinced myself to follow through with my mission and made it happen by roping Jeff into helping me, and going grocery shopping at Casa de Casey for the ingredients-where everything is free. While pulling the cookies out of the oven definitely was a lot more anti climactic and less magical than it used to be, it was still a lot of fun sharing one of my favorite childhood experiences with Jeff, and proving to myself that I can make something edible. As much as I hate to say it, the dazzle of this experience has dimmed since I’ve gotten older, and I now make my Christmas trees green rather than blue which is the true indicator that I have reached adulthood.

Christmas Eve

Then:

As a kid I loved Christmas Eve, and honestly, probably more than Christmas. The anticipation of all that was to come was one of the best feelings. I was giddy knowing Santa was coming that night, imagining waking up to all the amazing gifts I would get, seeing half eaten carrots as proof that Rudolph was actually in my house, and knowing we were leaving for Kentucky to see all my family- it made me too excited to sleep. Because of that, I would make myself stay up super late (11 was midnight to me back then), and I would try to catch Santa in the act by sneaking around the house without my parents seeing me, which I never found out if they knew I did that or not. The naivety of it all back then made being a kid so much fun. My biggest concerns were if I would get all the gymnastics equipment or sparkly new leotards that I wanted. Somewhere along the way, the grinch must have bitten me or something because that giddy feeling of anticipation slowly started to fade.

Now:

Now that I am officially an adult, I gotta say, I am a little confused on how everything is supposed to play out. There is no Santa rulebook that declares what age or stage of life you should stop correcting your kids that Santa got it and not the parents when they call it out. It definitely will have a different feel this year since Christmas Break isn’t a thing in the work world, and I won’t be with the Sparrow side of the family because of it. I feel everything from my childhood is starting to become permanently a memory rather than a reality as deep and sad as that sounds. I mean, I definitely could lay out the carrots at my apartment, but I am pretty sure they won’t eat themselves now that I know Rudolph never did make it into my house. I could stay up late trying to watch for Santa out my window, but the only thing I would find is the sunrise the next morning and no Santa. I could lay my shoes out by the front door for Saint Nick to fill up but I’d still have a chocolate-less empty shoe, but rather, a full reminder to work out. You get it, at some point, special days that we had as kids become regular days as an adult, and for that, I whole heartedly wish I could zap myself into Little Lauren again who was excited over half eaten carrots. But hey, at least I still have the Disney Princess tree to blast me to the past.

The Christmas List:

Then

Oh the joy of the Toys R Us , GK, and Target catalogs. I would spend so much time flipping through the pages with a pen and circling everything I wanted as well as putting a bunch of stars around what I REALLY wanted. My list back then was filled with anything and everything from American Girl, gadgets I’d see in commercials between my episodes of “Spongebob,” or crafts which ended up on the shelf (and still are there). It later turned into gymnastics equipment to fulfill my dream of a home gym, and ITunes gift cards for the days I used to spend hours downloading songs to my brand new Ipod nano. Clothes were no where to be found on my list unless they had “gymnast” on it. I hated getting clothes back then, specifically “church clothes” that I had to pose with every time I opened them, or anything fancy that was farthest away from a leotard. I didn’t care how expensive or ridiculous my asks were, even the 9 ft tall uneven bar set that I figured we’d just put it in the basement with an 8 ft tall ceiling and call it good.

Now:

Now that I am paying for my rent, groceries, car, gas, and all the other things I wish I didn’t have to pay for; my list has changed. If it was socially acceptable to put my grocery list, a few months of car payments, or a month of rent on my Christmas List, I would, and I am not kidding. I’d be overjoyed if I unwrapped a brand new bottle of laundry detergent and toilet paper, or pulled out of my stocking a giant roll of trash bags or shampoo, because that stuff is expensive! I’ve reached the age where clothes are the most exciting thing on my list, followed by kitchen cookware, bed sheets, replacements for things that broke, and car mats. Since starting my job and living on my own, I have learned that every dollar truly counts, and I now see holidays as chances to get what I want rather than need because my salary goes to all the things I need rather than want…except at Target. I miss the days where I was too embarrassed to unwrap a bra, fancy underwear, or pull razors out of my stocking in front of my family and they’d all go “ohhhhh Lauren what’s that for?” as my face turned the color of Rudolph’s nose.

Christmas Dinner

Then:

One of my favorite things about Christmas was all the good food I got to scoop onto my plate that my Gram made and ultimately did not eat because my eyes were bigger than my stomach. Back then; I didn’t know what food allergies were or that I had them, calories were not in my vocabulary, and Instagram was not a thing which meant diet culture was not all up in my face 24/7. Christmas dinner at Gram’s is quite a sight to see for all those who aren’t accustomed to it – it is like Thanksgiving on steroids. This was the one time a year I got to eat all my favorite southern dishes such as broccoli casserole, Gram’s homemade mac and cheese, sweet potato casserole, banana croquettes, “cranberry fluff”, pineapple pretzel salad, her fluffy mashed potatoes with a pool of butter, cornbread dressing, and of course there was turkey and country ham but I didn’t like those because they weren’t carbs. If you thought that was a lot, dessert was so overwhelming and I never knew where to start! Rum cake, chess pie, Japanese fruit pie, carrot cake, peanut butter fudge, Gram’s christmas cookies, chocolate cherries, white chocolate pretzels, five versions of cookies and donuts from the famous Burkes Bakery, and boiled custard all made an appearance. I miss the days where I ate everything I wanted, and as much as I wanted, with no worries at all about how I’d feel, both physically and emotionally the next day. I also miss the days of getting my own gingerbread man to bite the head off of.

Now:

Everything I have listed above has not changed. The Christmas dinner table still is full from edge to edge with all my favorites, but now, my body has decided to reject dairy which eliminates all my favorites except the country ham and turkey which I never touched back then. That right there is karma. On top of that, it’s hard to ignore all the social media posts about new years resolution weight loss, calories in your Christmas dinner meal, making healthier versions of everything, and all the other hooey that Instagram and Facebook nail into our minds. It causes us to look at things subjectively rather than objectively- one meal will not make you gain 10 lbs like we all think, people! Yeah, it’s important to watch how much you eat in a meal, but more for the reason of not upchucking while opening gifts after dinner, not because calories are the devil. It’s been a battle the past couple years learning to enjoy the moment and not stress over food due to calorie counting and my dairy dilemma, but I have gotten used to my new “now” and have found other ways to enjoy myself like wearing questionable sweaters. I definitely will miss even the sight of the Christmas table spread this year since I will be stuck in MN, but I know my mom will snapchat me some broccoli casserole- same thing, right?…

Christopher and Lauren’s Button Factory

Then:

For those of you who have not seen or received buttons over the years, they are a grid pretzel with a melted Hershey Hug topped with a holiday M&M. They really should come with a warning label because they are highly addictive. Back in the day, my parents would take one night a year to get Christopher and I all set up to make buttons so they could escape and go on a Christmas shopping sprint since we kept them too busy on weekends with all day gymnastics meets, basketball tournaments, and math help for those dang word problems about marbles or oranges that made me cry. Christopher and I would make these for hours on hours straight, and never got tired of it. He was head chef, aka, was in charge of handling all things in the oven, and I was his sidekick. We cranked up the Christmas tunes and the hours flew by as I unwrapped hundreds of hershey hugs while standing on my step stool so I could reach the counter. I have always looked up to my brother, and I loved this time with him because I thought he was so cool for knowing how to use the oven. We would give our finished products to all our extended family, friends, and of course, fill our Christmas treat bowl with them so I could eat them before dinner when my mom wasn’t looking.

Now:

The button factory unfortunately lost a partner once we got to the age where we were old enough to be without a babysitter or needed to stay entertained while there was no parental supervision. Instead, I have kept the tradition running all by myself and still have loyal consumers. I gave them to all my friends, and sorority sisters in college, as well as professors and staff at Gustavus because the way to a person’s heart is always chocolate. This year, I made them in my apartment for my family, friends, and Jeff to get him addicted, too. It was nice to have a sliver of normalcy even though everything around me is different, including the fact that this was the first year I made them anywhere other than my childhood home, and burned myself on a different oven than the one I’m used to burning myself on once I got to the age where I could reach it without a step stool. While I still enjoy making them every year, and still probably will for as long as my fingers are able to unwrap that finicky foil, I miss the days where my brother was right there beside me yelling at me to not go near the oven.

Gift Giving

Then:

I think it is pretty obvious that as an elementary school kid, I did not have an income except for the cash I’d get in my holiday cards or the penny I’d find in the Target parking lot. With that, my definition of gift giving was picking out something my mom bought to put my name on and say I got it for them. Half the time, I didn’t even know what I was giving people and was just as surprised as they were when they opened it. Christmas was about receiving and not giving….the closest I ever got to giving a gift was wrapping (badly) to help out. As much as I don’t like admitting it, I bypassed the true meaning of Christmas, and as they say on “The Bachelor”: I was in it for all the wrong reasons- being getting as many presents as possible.

Now:

There’s this thing in psychology called buyers remorse: buying something and once the act is done, instantly regretting it. I experience this every time I get anything for myself, but never when I get something for others. This is not a good thing for my bank account, and I have realized that this year more than ever now that I pay for my own things to help me survive. Even knowing that I was on a budget and didn’t have to go all out for my family, I still chose to buy the perfect gifts rather than make sure I had enough money for groceries this month (whoops). It’s hard to refrain from buying more or nicer things for the people in my life who have already given me so much. I’m now at the point where I would rather give than receive anything at all (unless it’s my groceries, you can buy me toothpaste any time you’d like) because watching the look on my friend’s and family’s face as they receive the gift they didn’t know they needed or wanted is enough satisfaction for me, such as, much needed fashion upgrades, or pjs with my face all over them. Eventually, the goal is that my whole family and friends will be hit with Lauren face socks.

MinneSNOWta

Then:

This isn’t exactly Christmas related, but society has seemed to pair Christmas with snowmen and snowflakes. When I was little, I was a snow bunny. I was out there for hours sledding and launching myself off homemade sketchy and totally unsafe ramps with the neighborhood crew, making elaborate connecting igloo forts, and fancy snow KY wildcats and MN gophers. I’d bring my snowpants to school everyday because our elementary school had a giant hill that we could sled down at recess or body slide down the one part of pure ice. I didn’t care how frostbitten I got (except for the one time my mom found a scream crying Lauren at the back door in the dark because I could’t get my glove back on and my hand was traumatized). As nerdy as it may be, shoveling snow was one of my favorite things to do, and after I got done with our driveway with my mini shovel, I would go do the neighbors’ just for the heck of it. Maybe the key to getting kids to do chores is to make all things miniature, because it would not have been as fun for me if I had to use something other than a “Lauren sized” shovel. By the end of 4+ hours outside; my hair would have icicles on it, my snowpants would be soaked, and every part of my body would be frozen, but it was all worth the hot chocolate with mini marshmallows (See? Mini is better!).

Now:

I now have turned into one of those people that takes in the first snowfall from the comfort of the great indoors; warm cup of coffee in hand, the fireplace going (I don’t have one so I pretend my candle makes up for it), and all the other cozy vibe things that millennials do. I can safely say I have outgrown my purple overall snowpants, and my answer to Frozen’s “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” is a big no. It makes no sense as to why I love Minnesota and don’t want to move anywhere else because I hate being cold. The last time I went sledding was at Gustavus my freshman year on a cafeteria tray down the hill of Old Main. I must admit, I liked the rush I got from trying to dodge the concrete benches on the way down, and it was the same rush I got when I was trying to dodge trees when I was little. While I can definitely live without skiing, tubing and sledding- the one thing that I will sacrifice my warmth for is ice skating, and hopefully Lake Harriet and Centennial freeze over soon!

The Drive

 Then:

This one has always been a love hate relationship. Every year we have made the 13-15 hour (the hours got shorter because we got better at getting our bladders on the same schedule as we got older) trek down south, which is always an adventure in itself. Over the years, we have gotten stuck overnight on the interstate, found out what “homeless week” was for colleges leading to all hotels being booked all the way to MN, I got into the wrong van at the rest stop, have gotten stuck in Chicago traffic, caught stomach flu mid trip, and put Gracie in a beach bag with a bunch of other stuffed animals to sneak her into hotels. The part I enjoyed about the drive years ago was getting to do all the things I never got to do which was text my friends and current crush all day long on my new flip phone, watch movies on my portable DVD player, and pick out my favorite snacks at our favorite gas stations (Yes, we did have our staple gas stations. No, they were not Casey’s). What I disliked about it back then was being stuck with my family for a day – sorry, guys, your talk radio and adult conversations annoyed me – and the fact that I couldn’t do cartwheels whenever I wanted because I was strapped to a seat for longer than my legs wanted to be.

Now:

Everything has seemed to flip. I now love being stuck with my family for a day because that rarely ever happens anymore, and it’s like one giant catch up session that usually leads to a vent sesh, love life gossip, life advice, or reminiscing on the good old days. I love getting to sit there with my butt glued to the seat and do absolutely nothing until my legs go numb rather than feel the need to go do something because nowadays, my body and brain never get to rest as I am on the go all the time. It’s the perfect excuse to have 0 responsibilities (especially since I have never been asked to drive since I got my license 6 years ago…should I be offended?) It actually makes me sad that I won’t be able to go with the rest of my family this year because I like the quality time with them and the FOMO (fear of missing out) is real. On the bright side: Gracie will finally get a seat to put her doggie car seat in this year rather than putting her dog bed in the middle of the seats on a cardboard box!

Christmas with the Caseys

Then:

With half my family in the north, and half in the south, we alternate years for where we will be on Christmas Eve. But before we head on down to Kentucky, we always have a Casey get together. Being the youngest cousin, it always took me a solid hour to “warm up” and get the nerve to go interact with the older cousins, or honestly anyone, without my brother or mom being there to hide behind them. Once I finally did come out of my shell, I’d show them all my new gymnastics tricks (in full Christmas attire, not sure how I made that work). Casey celebrations were my favorite to go to because they never failed to make me laugh, especially during the Yankee Swap. For those who don’t know what a Yankee Swap is; there is a gift bank and each person takes turns trying to roll dice to get doubles. Once you get doubles, you can either pick a gift from the bank, or steal someone else’s. One of the perks from being the youngest, was that no one wanted to steal from me since there seemed to be an unwritten rule that it was illegal to steal from “cute little Lauren.” During this madness, you best believe there was full on family roasting going on, bartering, sarcastic comments, and weird gifts that began to appear in Yankee Swaps years to follow such as the magic head scratcher. While I did not say much during the entire night, I did occasionally like to drop my one liners that made the whole room burst out laughing.

Now:

Thankfully I’ve gotten past the stage of being too shy to say hi to anyone without my mom’s help. Since the days of tumbling in my Christmas dress; more Caseys have been added to the family, all cousins are out of college, and significant others have joined the madness making for an even more eventful Yankee Swap that still lives on. I now get my own stupidly practical gifts to contribute to the pile instead of piggy backing off my parents and ending up with our gift because I liked it for myself. Other than that, things haven’t really changed and when it comes to Caseys, and I’m not sure if it ever will which is comforting in a weird way. Dylan and Sam still sarcastically show their appreciation for the hand soaps they got but don’t want, Uncle Chip still tries to persuade everyone to take the fuzzy socks, and the unwritten rule of “don’t steal from little Lauren” is still alive. I’m excited to bring Jeff to his first Casey yankee swap because the 80th birthday party that included unnecessarily competitive croquet was just a warm up.

Christmas in the South

Then:

As long as I can remember, I have always had a green Christmas. Being in Danville, Kentucky for Christmas was always a non-negotiable no matter what was going on during the year, how much homework I had, if I was sick (one year the stomach flu led to upchucking on the curb at a McDonalds in the rain), or if I had a gymnastics meet coming up and missed a chunk of practices. This was the one time a year where schedules always lined up for everyone since the kiddos of the family were all on break. It was one of my favorite times of the year because I got to see all my family that I rarely see, sit on Grandad’s lap in his favorite chair while he read the paper, scooter or run around the Centre College campus, help Gram make “Big Breakfast” (by help I mean supervise), eat the best donuts in the world from Burke’s Bakery, play home run derby in the yard with my dad an brother only to lose the ball over the fence because the neighbors had a scary dog, wear my new matching “something” with my cousin Fielden, and drive the electric red toy jeep around the cul de sac with a cousin riding shot gun. This is how it went every single year until the whole getting older thing happened.

Now:

I told myself back then that I probably wouldn’t have to worry about things changing until I was “old and 20 something.” Well, that time that I never thought would come, has came, and my seven year old self would now consider me an old lady. This year, I won’t be going to Kentucky because I have this new addition to my life called a job, and unfortunately life insurance does not have a Christmas Break. But even then; things have, and are, still changing around me and will continue to as Grandad has been gone for several years now, family has moved, and my “little cousin” as I’d always say is in college which makes me feel like the old lady my seven year old self believes I am. I also now have someone to kiss at New Years instead of Gracie! This adds to the mix having more than my family to gladly share the holidays with which changes the who, what, and where to celebrate every year. As time goes on, work will probably continue to get even busier, and schedules aligning like they did when we were kids will become even less common. I’ve accepted that it just comes with adulthood as our lives become less intertwined.


Psychology says: we are less stressed, and we succeed, when we anticipate change rather than trying to keep everything the same. This has held true this year more than ever because of you know what, but also the fact that a lot of us are just experiencing normal life changes! As a kid, there was no way I could anticipate the fact I’d start to date some dude from a town I’d never heard of in my life in the middle of a pandemic, or that I would be an IT consultant rather than a sport psychologist and D1 college gymnastics coach like I thought I would be. I find it so weird how things can change right before our eyes and we don’t even realize it until hindsight. My dad told me a few years ago that circumstances would change once jobs and significant others entered the picture, and that it is OK that things will change, and still is OK that not everything works out like it used to. Hearing that has made the transition from childhood to adulthood a lot easier and less stressful with less feelings of guilt. The one thing I am still trying to cope with? The ugly after effects of believing that my dairy issues have magically gone away for a day and fully participating in a dairy loaded Christmas dinner despite the fact that I know that’s probably not the case!

Happy Christmas, y’all, and I sincerely wish everyone in the entire world a happy NEW year! May 2021 bring you more time with friends, family, maskless trips to public places, ample toilet paper supply, less Terrible Tuesdays, fulfilled resolutions, happy hours with coworkers, and whatever the heck normal is supposed to be now!

~Lauren

10 Things to be Thankful for in the Season of Covid

Thanksgiving is a week away all while we are going in reverse with gyms and restaurants closing causing a potential threat to our sanity…what a weird time to try to be thankful, right? Covid makes it feel like Thanksgiving has suddenly disappeared from the calendar, and plans shifting somehow translates to eliminating the historical holiday that has happened since 1621. While plans for some families may not have changed, this is the first time in 22 years that I haven’t celebrated with extended family after coloring the turkey in the paper while watching the Macy’s parade. Even though my traditional family Thanksgiving was canceled (the email chain subject line was titled “Thanksgiving? Not this year.”), that doesn’t mean that all parts have to be demolished; just the part where I get grilled about my love life, job, future plans, avoid the rutabaga, and get stuck at the kids table on the porch. The part that I am keeping and sharing with you all, is probably the most important part, and the part that you probably lose sight of during the year because our brains like to focus on the negatives. With that, here are just 10 of many, perhaps random, things I am thankful for this year: Covid edition.

The official documentation

My job 

I will just go ahead and get the obvious, and least Thanksgiving-ish one, out of the way: I am grateful for making my own money! But, this isn’t the reason why my job is on this list. I am extremely thankful to have been offered a job from Boom Lab in October 2019, because I can’t help but feel the big man above was looking out for me back then, knowing that Covid was going to strike in the prime time of the college grad job search. Because of this, I have been granted the ability to live the life a 20-something should be living; first apartment, first car, working for an innovative company that I love, meeting new people and going to “adulty” happy hours, visiting new places I probably should have seen years ago (I’m not the best Minnesotan), sitting out on my balcony watching the lights of Minneapolis light up the night, date nights, making doctors appointments without my mom doing it for me, getting to enjoy my new sense of freedom, and learning that taxes make me sad.

I feel for those who have been impacted by Covid that may still be searching for a job, and are not at the point in their life they thought they would be at by now. It’s unfair the clock can’t be reversed after all this is done so those who feel they’ve been robbed can go back and experience life how they should be during their early 20s. Everyone deserves to feel, on time, the pride of their first paycheck only to have it replaced by the pain of their first rent payment.

Alpacas

Out of everything I am grateful for this year, this is close to number one. It may seem strange, but this summer, this alpaca changed my life. This is not comparable to when people say their pet has changed their life, I truly mean that a random alpaca in South Dakota actually changed and improved my quality of life till the day I die. It’s a long story, and a bit of a life update, but let me explain (although it would be pretty funny if I just left you hanging here).

If you have been following my blog for a while, you read about my FND story, and the theories and treatments I have tried for 12 years, but everything that worked for others and “should have” worked for me, never did. You also read my “Summer Summary” post and how I had a grand old time with an alpaca at my best friend’s wedding in South Dakota, as well as getting very sick in July but having no clue what it was.

After the wedding, a weird red circle appeared on my arm, but I chalked it up to no big deal along with my mom who received this lovely Snapchat. A few weeks after, I got very sick and was tested for everything you can think of….except Lyme Disease. Once I showed my FND doctor the weird spot on my arm and shared my 2 weeks of symptoms that truly resembled Covid, she proposed a new theory that I have maybe had Lyme for years. The only incident we could think of that could confirm this theory was a rash I got in 2004 with no known cause. Doctors gave me steroids to get rid of the rash back then, but they also got rid of my immune system’s strength to fight the Lyme. She explained the alpaca must have reinfected me which woke up the Lyme that had already been in my body for 16 years and seeped into my nervous system in the mean time. Hint: FND is a problem with the functioning of the nervous system.

For those who have Lyme that is untreated, stage 3 often presents as neurological symptoms that can turn chronic if not treated within a 6 ish month window. I got a very specific tick borne illness test, and found that I did in fact have Lyme since I was 6, which finally explained the rash I had back then that led to this tub toy photoshoot (the rest of the pictures are PG-13, sorry). The body is incredible at fighting off diseases, but when it’s had something for 16 years, it kind of loses motivation to keep trying at full effort once it realizes it’s not improving…kind of like me and golf.

In addition, the immune system and nervous system are terrible at multi-tasking: notice how you can only get one sickness at a time in most cases. My body is like texting and driving- you can’t do both without sending typos and wrong messages, but once you do one thing at a time, things work a lot better, and I’m not accidentally sending to Jeff “I’m almost a tree” instead of “I’m almost there.” This phenomenon is why my FND gets worse whenever I experience sickness or more stress- because my nervous system gets overloaded and sends wrong messages to my brain! Finally, the ultimate puzzle I’ve been trying to put together for 12 years makes a visible, clear, picture. To sum it up: I’m thankful that an alpaca reinfected me so the Lyme I’ve had all these years was finally found, and I may have found the origin to my FND!

All 5 feet of me functions

When paging through my “Gratefulness Journal” that I jot in every morning, this is one of the items that shows up the most because I often stop and remind myself just how much my body does and puts up with. Instead, most focus on trying to change it and what it can’t do anymore. I put my body through 16 years of flinging through the air and smashing into beams, body slamming mats, short landings on ankles, snapped toes, bending in half, holding on for life as I swung 360 degrees around bars 9 feet off the ground, and all this came to a halt once the permanent nerve damage set in…the graceful sport I call gymnastics. I did this all while my body managed to function somewhat normally despite 16 years of undetected Lyme disease and a movement disorder. It’s been hoisted in the air and picked up many times because apparently being small means that’s acceptable to others. Can’t forget the number of weeks I trained on wood floors to be a tumbling Russian Dancer in a professional ballet (long story). Lastly, it put up with years of malnourishment due to dealing with stressors the wrong way, and the unrealistic expectations on social media that humans should be pencils with abs.

This year more than ever, I have appreciated all my body DOES for me, rather than what it looks like, or that it is functionally dysfunctional at times. Now, I remind myself that I am thankful to have two feet that allow me to dance terribly with Jeff (and his aunt). My arms have allowed me to do my handstands all these years to knock every beefy bodybuilder off their high horse at the gym. I have two hands to bake brownies confirmed as “nasty” by my family. I possess a booty that can sit for hours at a time watching mind numbing shows on Netflix. My two legs helped me escape the goose that chased me down the road on a run. I have a stomach that can digest my favorite foods, but, most importantly, my body as a whole keeps me alive!

Coffee mugs

I always say it: it’s the little things, and this is just one of those little things that brings me joy every morning. I started off as a firm believer that I only needed one mug due to being an aspiring minimalist, but once my brother gave me my second one, I started to realize I had an emotional attachment with it because every time I used it or looked at it, I would think of him. This is the case for all the future mugs to follow. Whenever Jeff is gone on a work trip, or it’s a Terrible Tuesday, I use the mug he gave me and it’s like he is there with me, cheering me on (the mug says “Hot Stuff” on it, that may not be accurate in the morning). Choosing a mug for the day brings me a lot more joy than it probably should, but sometimes, being able to use the ugly mug I made in 6th grade art class with an awkward handle is just the kind of energy I need for the day. Not everyone may personify mugs to be like having coffee with the person that gave it to them, but every mug I have comes from someone special both near and far ranging from West Virginia to Colorado to good ol’ St. Peter, MN. Every mug has a story or deeper meaning behind it, but most importantly, they hold my coffee for me.

Frozen dinners

I told myself that once I moved into my apartment that I would become an avid cook. This lasted for about a week before I discovered the frozen “meals for one” aisle at the grocery. There are a lot more brands other than Hot Pockets now, and they offer quick, healthy meals for one. After work, the last thing I want to do is coat slimy raw chicken breasts or squeeze ground turkey chubs out into a skillet and try to forget that image in my mind as I am eating it. Not to mention, these homemade meals last for days, and I don’t know about you, but eating a giant pot of chili for a week straight is not my cup of tea. I have become a gourmet microwaver of meals that probably look and taste better than anything I could ever make, or if I tried to make, something or someone would end up burnt to a crisp. While I say my prayers of thanks before my meals, I pray extra thanks that the most challenging part of making my meal was getting the box open!

My support squad

If you ask people what they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, most of the time “family” is their cliche response. Well, I too, am cliche. I am thankful my family has gotten me through a lot of just downright unnatural and new things this year like having a graduation ceremony with my mailbox, starting my new job yet never have been to my office or have met my coworkers, quarantining alone in my apartment for nothing for 2 weeks because my Lyme disguised itself as Covid, turning 22, moving out, Terrible Tuesdays occurrences, etc…but not only my family gets credit for this. My friends, both old and new, and my little fur ball have been a huge part of making my 2020 manageable.

I already wrote a giant sappy paragraph about my boyfriend Jeff in my Summer Summary, and don’t worry I won’t do anything near that again for your sake, but even since then, I have become so much more thankful for him. He has introduced me to new people; being his amazing family that makes me want to spend more time with them whenever I’m with them, and my new friend, Megan, who is also a blonde psychology major that loves fitness and basically is the same person as me down to the smallest details…honestly creepy how similar we are sometimes. I often forget that college isn’t the only way to make lifelong friends.

Ok, so I said I wouldn’t write a giant paragraph about Jeff…never said anything about two! In all seriousness, I’m so thankful that he continues to blow me away with all he does and his ability to support me. He’s been here for me whether that be watching movies with me on days I haven’t felt too peachy, but also has been there for the celebrations, achievements, and everything in between. He’s seen both the good sides of me, but also the bad like witnessing an actual seizure due to Lyme meds which included going unconscious and my eyes rolling back in my head (definitely “Hot Stuff” like my mug says). I wouldn’t mention all these details if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve never had someone other than my parents be my rock like this during my weird FND quirks, that for some, I myself am experiencing for the first time. He’s my biggest hype man, and my best friend all in one which is the best combo because I know he somehow makes every situation better by a big hug, sending me unexpected stupid snapchats to make me laugh, wearing matching sweatshirts with me, or sarcastically roasting me into a better state of mind.

The nut milk movement

For those of you that have not picked up on it yet, I unfortunately live a dairy free life. This has led to a few sad Thanksgivings of bringing my own green beans because the green bean casserole has that dang can of cream of mushroom, surpassing pie, or having a mashed potato-less plate because they were pre buttered. Now, veganism has started to spread like Covid- even to McDonalds with their new “McPlant”, what a name – and things like almond milk, oat milk, cashew cheese, almond oil butters, and other things that I didn’t know nuts could be made into are actually getting space in grocery stores.

A lot more companies are reducing the discrimination against those whose digestive systems can’t “do the dairy,” and have worked to make non-dairy products actually taste good because they realize just how many people are dairy free, and will buy products that taste like the things we had to give up! So with that, I am thankful that Country Crock made a dairy free butter that doesn’t taste like wax. I am thankful that Nada Moo made an ice cream that doesn’t taste like a mix of chalk and rubber cement. I am thankful that Almond Breeze now has some friends on the shelf and isn’t the lone almond milk. I’m thankful that Sweet Loren’s has a great name and has allowed me to bake cookies again and eat half the dough before it even reaches the oven, instead of buying prepackaged hockey pucks. And lastly, I am thankful for Kraft Mac and Cheese for still continuing to use cheese that isn’t actually cheese.

TV dinner trays 

I never thought I would be so thankful for foldable TV dinner trays, but they have been such a God send this summer since I have had to work from home in my apartment. When living in an apartment, there is not exactly a lot of room for a desk, or a reason to get one for if I ever get to go back to the office. These babies have allowed me to transport my work station to my balcony, to my living room, to my bedroom, heck, I could even set up in the bathroom if I wanted to (already got a “chair” in there). I went about a month without a desk, and put the “lap” in laptop, but that got old real fast. I use these more than any desk I’ve ever owned because after a long day of work, it turns into my kitchen table since that doesn’t fit into my apartment either. Best $3 ever spent at Savers.

Technology

Imagine Covid without technology. There would be no zoom meetings where your coworker forgets to turn on mute and is yelling at their dog but the presenter thinks they’re yelling at them (true story), no virtual school, no Netflix to pass the time, no texting your friends that you can’t see right now, no listening to music while working out, no stalking your crush on Instagram, no talking to your grandma’s nostrils on Facetime because she can’t see you all tiny in the corner, and I wouldn’t typing about your grandmas nostrils on this blog right now. Life would be so much worse without our tech during all of this. Watching paint dry might be the highlight of our day, or we would actually have to read a real, non electronic, book! I am thankful for the little rectangle I carry around more than I ever have been in my life nowadays, even the little flip phone I had in 7th grade that I only wanted because it was pink.

Covid

Dare I say this out loud; I am thankful for Covid. I am not thankful for the terrible disease itself, but more, the indirect effects it has had on me. Covid has opened my eyes to see that there is so much more to life than what I used to think was important, and as we go into lockdown again, this will all become relevant again.

First, I am thankful that Covid literally forced me to heal my several year battle with an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise from college and college gymnastics, by shutting down gyms and taking away my ability to spend hours working out like I used at practice or the gym. It also took away the ability to be super picky about meals since going to restaurants or the grocery wasn’t very convenient during lockdown, and turning my nose up at something seemed ungrateful and silly during a pandemic. I started to be more open to and grateful for the food that I did have, was less concerned about the numbers, and remembered how much I enjoyed things I swore off eating for years like any and all forms of dessert. Any exercise I did during the day such as old piano lesson book bag back squats (say that 5 times fast), or a walk, was enough, and I didn’t have to feel dead at the end of every workout in order to feel like it was successful.

The reason I am so thankful for Covid in this sense, is because it has allowed me to enjoy life and live again! It freed me from the grip of my all or nothing mentality and has allowed me to enjoy going on dates with Jeff, family ice cream outings to Seb Joes, breweries with friends, and give my body what it needs through my Lyme fiasco – all of this would have caused me extreme stress before. I started to enjoy working out again and now do it to stay healthy, bring out the strong gymnast in me again, and relieve stress rather than feel like a slave to it and have it be my source of stress. This pandemic has shown me that there’s a lot more to life than trying to be a certain way or trying to have control over all things and try to do things perfectly all the time… with that being said, live a little and eat the dang cookie!

I am thankful that Covid also forces me to work from home. It has been a blessing in disguise because if my ongoing Lyme fiesta happened any other year, I don’t think I would be able to get to the office much. There were some days this summer, and recently, where I could not get out of bed, and was so sick from the effects of Lyme exiting my body (fun fact, it is called Herxing), but because I had to work from home, that was totally acceptable. I fully believe there is no way I could have worked and recovered like I have been able to while working at home, and for that, I am so thankful. Lastly, the week I had sun poisoning would have been so embarrassing if I had to go into work with a swollen tomato face, eye sockets, and balloon hands making me look unrecognizable. Thank goodness I could turn my camera off!

Finally, it has also made me value time with family and experiences so much more. Before all this I definitely took it for granted, I mean, I could have flown to KY any time I wanted but I didn’t. I could have gone over to my grandmas and breathed on all her belongings for no reason, but I didn’t. I could have done a lot more sorority squats with my sisters, but didn’t. I could have had a giant group hug and sung Kumbaya at the last family Christmas, but we didn’t…new tradition?? And I never would have thought that having to stand across the yard from my Kindergarten teacher on my college graduation day would be such a bummer, but it was. Any time is now quality time with my family, and every experience is valued no matter how old I get or where I’m at, even if that means finally getting to have a college commencement 4 years later to recreate a “peace out Covid” rendition.


If Covid has taught you anything, it is to make the most of all situations, to get creative, and to forget about the petty problems you thought were a huge deal before all this mess. To bring this full circle, I think Covid has forced us to focus on the real meaning of Thanksgiving more than ever before because there is no rushing off to sit in the parking lot of a Walmart for Black Friday this year. It has forced us to focus on what we have, and quality time with loved ones rather than complain how garlicky the mashed taters are. I always like to find blessings in disguise, and maybe this is some twisted way to find those blessings in your life. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, eat your pie and be happy!

~Lauren

15 Simple Ways to Make Life Easier

Here is a question for you: how many fixable things are you “putting up with” on the daily that could be easily taken away? There are tiny sources of stress everywhere that seem so small and we endure them everyday, but even the tiniest source of stress like that one picture on the wall that never seems to hang straight is valid. A lot of our stressors and anxieties as we get older come from losing sight to how simple some things in life should be. I know personally I increase my stress by going about things all wrong and not believing that some things truly are THAT simple! While all of these tips may not apply to you- think creatively to see how they could, or pick and choose the ones you want to try to make your life less like one big terrible Tuesday.


1. Write your own rules and boundaries

Usually when hearing the importance of creating boundaries, it has nothing to do with creating boundaries with yourself. This is a simple way to make your life a lot easier on your mental and physical health. We are great at setting rules for others, and rules being set for us, but the concept of writing a rule for yourself and actually following it is a foreign concept to most. Additionally, a lot of people forget that rules include what you will do instead of all the things you won’t do. I created a rule for myself that I won’t log onto my work computer after I have shut the lid at 5 that day. Instead, I will use that time for myself to do something I enjoy (not that staring at a computer screen for 8 hours straight isn’t exhilarating enough.) Before this rule I’d find myself scrolling through my work emails while watching a movie before bed, which in turn ramped up my stress all over again when I should have been winding down for the day. Here’s a few more examples:

  • I will not do housework while dinner is in the oven- but instead- give myself that time for self-care.
  • I will watch one episode of a show on Netflix without any distractions- no phone or scrolling through Insta.
  • I will do a workout while the clothes are in the wash and will not waste an hour of my day with my butt glued to the couch more.
  • If it takes less than 2 minutes to do something, I will do it instead of procrastinate (another one I live by).
  • I will pack my gym bag the night before and put it in my car.
  • While my kid is napping I will take that time to relax, too.
  • I will use this one hour before *insert least favorite college class* to take a mental break instead of do more homework.
  • I will invest $100 of the leftover money from my paycheck into a Roth IRA account every month instead of blow it all in the Target dollar isle (it is a black hole in there, folks).

Declaring something to be a rule takes away the indecision from choosing what you should do and what you want to do. Our brains are wired to make it harder for us to follow rules we make for ourselves because evolutionarily, following rules set by others increases our chance of them liking us more and therefore they will not kill us (the brain is still very primal as you can see). So, make the decision once, and practice living by it. Having a hard time thinking of one? Look at how you are spending your time, energy, and money- what boundaries do you want to put in place in order to increase better habits and health? Find areas of your life where you feel those pangs of guilt and indecision, and choose what you could change to rid yourself of that unnecessary stressor. Remember, personal rules aren’t selfish!

2. Simplify Mealtime

Meal time should be enjoyable; a time to rest and digest, but our inability to simplify this process does the exact opposite of that as the innocent “what do you want to eat?” conversation turns into an actual argument for more people than it should. Psychology says that having too many choices can actually lead to a lot of distress, and humans thrive when they are given up to three choices. If mealtime is a source of stress for you or your family, this one is important because it is a waste of brainpower and time (it takes my family 15 minutes before my dad makes the executive decision since my mom and I will say we don’t care yet turn down everything he picks). A few ways to simplify could be looking into one of those meal kit subscriptions, meal plan every Sunday and write it on one of those Pinterest-esque chalkboards, or meal delivery services. Can’t decide what you want? Write meals on popsicle sticks and pull a random one, make meals according to what will go bad first in the fridge (no wasted money either!), or designate a theme for each day of the week. The key here, is to let something else decide for you so you don’t have to put your brain power towards deciding something not important. Who knows, maybe that energy you’ll save from trying to decide pancakes or waffles will be used to find the cure for covid!

3. Practice “Pause”

This is one super easy tip to do…but not so easy tip to remember to do. There are countless times in life where we should take a “pause,” but don’t, because society is so used to instant gratification. Taking these pauses saves potential time, money, and energy. I have learned to “press pause” before I make a purchase, decide what to eat, say yes to an invite, etc. In a world of online shopping, social media, and everything at the reach of our fingers, it is so easy to be impulsive which could lead to instant regret. The few seconds I take before I do something has saved me from wasting my money on something stupid, using too much of my energy and going out with friends when I should’ve stayed home, and living with little pangs of regret that add up to eat at you after a while! These pauses lead to a more intentional lifestyle and creates a habit of making a quick pros and cons list in your head. It teaches you to focus on values and priorities, and if what you are about to do aligns with your goals and intentions.

Another kind of pause is to literally take a break. This may sound weird, but I LOVE to sit in my car after I have parked. I could sit there for hours. It feels like I am in a bubble where the rest of the world can’t touch me for a few moments and the silence is loudest in there. Another great pause place is the bathroom, I mean honestly, it is one of the few places where someone can’t try to hurry you up without making a very awkward situation. There is nothing wrong with sitting there for a few more moments, washing your hands longer (you should be with covid anyways), touching up your makeup, or using it as a safe haven like I did when I was little because it was the only room that had a lock on it when my brother liked to chase after me. A bathroom is the epitome of self care ( I will let your mind take you where it wants with that), why not add a mental/emotional break to the list of all the things a bathroom can accomplish? Taking these short pauses allows you to feel more in control of your life rather than your life controlling you.

4. Go to Bed Early (at least) Once a Week

I don’t know if you know this, but life is better when you aren’t tired. It is amazing what happens when you are well rested: remembering driving to work rather than your zombie auto pilot self somehow making it there, not having eyelids that weigh 100 lbs while sitting at your desk after lunch, being able to have a solid workout, actually enjoying time with your significant other because you are mentally there, and being productive! Not only does sleep help you this way, but it also improves physiological processes in your body. Your hunger hormones level out which lead to not consuming all and any carbs in sight because your brain is looking for an energy source to keep you going (sugar and carbs are the quickest way for your brain to get energy, hence, cravings when you’re tired). Your cortisol levels start to balance because being rested is less of a stress on your brain and body. Your mood heightens because you have the energy to do let it. Not only is an earlier bed time good for you, but also everyone around you that has to put up with you everyday! On whatever day you designate this to be- make it happen and make it a priority. If making dinner or cleaning up prevents you from that early bedtime, allow yourself to leave it until the next day or order takeout. This can be a hard task for those with night shifts, kids, etc…just try your best!

5. Audit Yourself

The key to making your life easier is to see if your financial records conform to the law.

Just kidding, sorry to any accountants out there. This goes along with something we psychology nerds call “pain points.” The first step is being able to pay attention to the parts of your everyday life that cause stress, or friction. These can be pet peeves, things you ruminating on, or irritabilities. Insignificant little nuggets that don’t seem like they should stress you out are just as important as the big things, because eventually if you ignore the little things enough, you will blow your top. Examples of these little things, for me, are my car keys are never in the same spot, always having to find my phone charger, and having to climb on the counters to get a plate everyday. Even ridiculous stressors need to be taken into account, and for me those would be stressing over showing favoritism to certain coffee mugs rather than using them all equally, and paranoia about my greek yogurt going past its expiration date before I can eat it even though it is perfectly fine a week or two after (can you tell I am a bit OCD yet?). Next, think about the easiest possible way to get rid of these problems. For me, I hung a command hook for my keys, have multiple chargers around my apartment, got a step stool, created a weekly rotational mug system, and I buy and eat my yogurts in order of expiration date. It is literally that easy and I feel so relieved not having those naggy stupid things on my brain anymore! What little obstacles bug the heck out of you that you actually could do something about instead of living with it? Audit yourself for that feeling of friction in your mind/body, and physical feelings of stress…after you find all your pain points, remember to regularly audit for more because little things that piss you off never go away.

6. Everything Needs a Home

While sometimes it seems easier to just throw your keys on the counter, hang up your shirt in a random part of your closet, or put all your notes in one giant folder; it will not be easier for you when you have 30 seconds to find that one piece of paper within 100000000 other white papers in your folder. Think about it, what if you were trying to drive to a friend’s house and instead of them giving you their exact address they gave you the general area of their house instead? Sure, you’d probably find them if you knocked on every door along the way, but it would save you so much time and energy not doing that. The same goes for your pile of clothes sitting in the corner of your room or a random chair right now (yeah, I am looking at you). Any energy you spend is energy spent (no duh), but this obvious statement is so true! Ripping your closet apart, thinking real hard about where something was last time you saw it, stressing over losing your phone even though you’re holding it, spending 10 minutes looking for lost nail clippers when in reality you put them in a different spot than usual (me yesterday), and walking in circles looking for an earring is all energy that could have been put towards something a lot more important. So please, for me, go put that nasty cup that has been sitting on your desk for way too long where it belongs.

7. Repeat as Much as Possible

How much variety do we actually need in our lives? For some odd reason, I think we overshoot the need for variety from day to day. Who ever said we had to eat different meals everyday? Who said we can’t wear the same exact thing two days in a row even if we like it? Why do we need to constantly find new recipes, workouts, outfits, products, etc? The feeling of needing to avoid doing the same thing everyday causes more difficulty than needed. Instead of actively looking for ways to make things that already work for you different, spend your time an energy looking for what things in your life you can continue to repeat.

  • Have some staple basics in your wardrobe and find ways to tweak them a bit rather than buy all new things, or, embrace wearing the same things from week to week. It is not a crime!
  • Have the same meal theme on each night week to week (taco Tuesdays, breakfast for dinner Wednesdays, etc..)
  • Use canned responses to reply to FAQs over email at work
  • Find a workout circuit you love and feel free to use it everyday
  • Eat the same breakfast everyday

All in all, look for areas of your life where you are trying to solve problems that don’t need to be solved. This will save you so much time and energy, and will preserve the joy of actually looking for a new recipe, outfit etc. rather than feeling the need to.

8. Declutter

This seems pretty obvious, but when you own less stuff, that means there’s less of it to clean up and care for. And when there’s less stuff to clean and take care for, there’s more time in your day to do things that are more fun than scrubbing sauce off your 15 dinner plates even though you live by yourself. Decluttering is one of my favorite things to do because it often leads to more money! I am a big fan of selling my hardly used clothes and items on Poshmark or Facebook marketplace. Minimalism is all about making your life more simple by making everything around you more simple. As they say, less is more: more time, more energy, more space, more money, and more appreciation for what you already have.

9. “Why am I doing this?”

Get in the habit of asking yourself “why am I doing this?” because it leads to better decision making, and can call you out on your stupidity in a nanosecond. If you have no explanation to why you are doing something, it is a great indicator that you need to reconsider whatever the heck you are doing. In most cases, good ideas have answers: if an accountant asks “why am I interviewing for this auditing job?” – so I can be responsible for earning my own income , and because I like the job and can picture myself sitting at this desk auditing financial reports to conform to the law for the rest of my life while wearing a boring beige suit and eating a boring cheese sandwich everyday. That seems like a pretty well and thought out reason to spend time and energy on it. But if I ask myself “why am I interviewing for this auditing job?” I would reply with “I need money.” This would then be a terrible use of my time, energy, and I’d probably only last an hour with that mindset. I could have used that time to do something with purpose. The reason we need this self check is because habits or goals can start out beneficial, but as time goes on, those habits or everyday things turn into a “I should be doing this” type deal rather than a “get to” mindset. A common example we see is “why am I working out?” To get skinny and then I’ll finally be happy” – terrible reasoning because it is for all the wrong reasons and is not enjoyable! Correct answer: to better my overall health to live the life I want. To sum it up, this wakes up the PURPOSE of actions and decisions. If there is none, just do yourself a favor and stop.

10. Create a Flow in Your Schedule

You probably already do some of this because it is common sense. For example, the gas station is right next to my gym, and while my tank is not quite empty, by the time it will be I will have to go out of my way to fill up, so I go ahead and fill up on my way out. This whole idea is hitting two birds with one stone. Save yourself time by picking up your groceries at the store next door to your kid’s soccer practice while waiting for them to get done. Stop in and see a friend on your way home from your parent’s house. Pick up dinner on the way home from work. This one is pretty self explanatory but it will save you both time, energy, and gas money.

It is also important to align your to do list with your energy levels. There is no use in putting something in your schedule to do if you wake up with only enough energy to walk to the coffee maker. I have a whole to do list on my wall, but I don’t go in order because sometimes it makes no sense to. If I feel more productive, I will choose the items on my list that require more physical or brain power. For me, I am most productive in the morning- it’s not uncommon for me to get back from the gym and clean the entire apartment, change my sheets, do all loads of laundry, do a few handstands, and then write a whole blog post in half an hour. If you checked back in with me around 3 PM, the only thing I could manage on the to do list would be to sort laundry- and I do this while watching TV to ease the pain. No one ever said there was a correct way to get things done, so do them when you’re literally able to.

11. Create Morning and Evening Routines

Life gets so much easier with routine. For all you night owls/early birds out there, mornings/nights can be hard without a routine. I like to think that my morning and nightly routine allows me to be like a Tesla- on autopilot but still going places without crashing and little effort. My morning routine of wake up, coffee, journal, and read allows my brain to wake up a bit before I put it to work for a solid 8 hours. Similarly at night after my brain is fried, my nightly routine of dinner, shower, netflix, fall asleep watching netflix while trying not to fall asleep watching netflix allows my brain to shut off. The best routines are the ones that you look forward to and don’t require a lot from you.

12. Transform Difficult Tasks

This whole post thus far has promoted getting out of hard things that you don’t want to do. Well, I am here to tell you that life doesn’t work like that. You will still be faced with situations where you have to do the dang thing and there is no way around it. While there is no way to change the task, there can be ways to reframe. Example A: traffic. There is no way, even for a Tesla, to hit a button in your car and make you fly over all the cars on 494. But, there is a way to make the time “fly” by. Find a good podcast, create a flow in your schedule to call your grandma since that is on your to do list, or play some good tunes! Example B: work emails will not reply by themselves; so go sit outside if it is nice out, get your favorite snack or drink, or even bribe yourself with something to get the job done. Each of us have a “thing” we hate doing, but think about what can make it more bearable and less terrible. If all else fails, the “fake it till you make it” phrase is an actual thing in psychology so might as well try to trick yourself into thinking scrubbing the toilet is the most fun you’ve had all week.

13. Set daily goals

Every morning, I grab my journal and ask myself “what goals do I want to accomplish today to have a good day?” These goals are not anything huge like “cure the common cold” or “find a million bucks in my parking garage,” but more like “start my new blog post,” “feel good about my workout,” or “eat three meals today. “Yeah, this may seem like some fluffy psychologist type exercise, but psychology does say if you write something down, you are more likely to do it, so I’ll take fluffy psych method over lost productivity any day.

But for real, this question is so important for several reasons. 1. it helps to find the priorities in your day instead of trying to get everything done, not finishing everything, then beating yourself up for not getting through all 127 items on the to do list. This allows you to knock out what will make the biggest difference for you right now.

2. It reminds you to think about your wellbeing. I’ve always been a go go go kind of gal, so setting a goal to take care of myself rather than add another to do list item goal seemed like a waste of my time until I realized I could get a lot more out of my days when I felt like I wasn’t dead! I now make sure to have at least one health related goal for the day because I have not been so great at that realm in the past. It’s hard to believe that writing “don’t forget lunch” on a piece of paper can magically change your habits- but it does, it’s accountability. After all is said and done, it feels great to look back and see all the cumulative goals you have achieved over time, even if they’re just loads of laundry or go to the store.

14. Simplify “Money Stuff”

“Money stuff” is what I say when I am referring to anything related to economics and finance (this is why the accounting job makes no sense for me). It goes in one ear and out the other- my brain can’t hold onto much of what it all means. That being said, dumbing down the process of managing my money has made my life much less stressful and has saved me brain power rather than expending it on comprehending investing in international stocks. Here’s a few ways to refrain from pulling your hair out:

  • Make a budget– I use the app “Mint” since I am no expert in budgeting, but something I am pretty darn good at is making a plan and following it. It’s important to be realistic, this means, admitting to yourself that you have a spend happy problem. Once you have adjusted to your budget and have seen your cash flow, this allows for you to either give yourself some more slack in some areas, or, learn that you need to tone down the shopping on Amazon. Mint makes categories for your spending and recommends a budget for each one depending on your income each month. The visual of a pie chart diagram helps tremendously for seeing where your money goes each month, and bar graphs for how much you have left in each category, and gives you warnings for when you’re spending a bit too much at Target. The truth can hurt sometimes.
  • Automate– A lot of subscriptions and monthly payments allow for an automated monthly transaction- this comes in handy when you have a billion monthly payments, but struggle to remember them all which can lead to late fees! Set that automated payment up and forget about it.
  • Use your money– there’s so much talk about saving every penny and growing your bank all the time, but there is nothing wrong with using your money to make your life easier, and putting an ease on your mental health. Hire a babysitter, hire a cleaner, nanny, therapist, massage session, or whatever else you need!

15. Be at Peace with Pace

My last and overarching point of this post is to be at peace with slow progress. All of this will be pointless if you think you’ll wake up tomorrow stress free because you took one action to sit in your car 10 seconds longer than usual. Wanting and wishing for things to change instantly, and seeing no change, can cause so much distress for some people- but once you expect that the process will take time, it is less daunting. This is a lesson that has been hard for me to learn- I like to see instant results, and my expectations for some things are 100% unrealistic yet are realistic in my mind. They always say to “enjoy the journey” and as cheesy as it sounds it is true. I spent so many years laser focused from getting from point A to B that the years in between seems like a negative hazy blur. It is important to remember that you can only do so much in a given day, and we have limits. Give yourself the gift of going slower to enjoy all that comes with it rather than beating yourself up for the one thing you didn’t do. In my experience, trying to speed a process up only stressed me out more and backfired rather than if I allowed myself to go at a slower pace. It also led to more stress and unhappiness. Fast is not always better, and truly ask yourself what you’re trying to rush for. Allow yourself to let your life be more stress free because every day shouldn’t be a chore.


I get it, sometimes things like these can be so easy that we just forget to even do them or that they are there. That’s why we aren’t all living stress free lives with no worries all the time. It can be so easy to overlook the simple act of getting a hook for your constantly misplaced keys, stop for groceries after the gym, use your money to help you relax, take time to pause after parking, reaching for your journal rather than your phone upon waking up, making easy rules for yourself, going to bed just an hour earlier, giving yourself permission to make the choice without guilt, and asking yourself why the heck you are doing what you are doing. These are all mindful tips to take in a world where there seems to be none. I hope you choose to pick one to practice, I mean, what do you have to lose other than stress, fatigue, and more stress?

Have a great day, keep it simple!

~Lauren

Summer Summary

Wow, it is been a while since I have written anything other than work emails and grocery lists. To me, this summer hasn’t even felt real between not having to prep to move back to college this month, pack up my cubicle at a summer internship, and (you guessed it) – COVID. I’ve been asked if I’m enjoying “adulting,” and truth be told, I am feeling very grateful that I dodged the college bullet this time around because I feel for the incoming freshmen and rising seniors that have had their most memorable years intercepted by Covid. I can confidently say this summer has been one of the best I have ever had, and I can thank a few people and places for that. I have realized so much about myself, what actually matters, and that I am fantastic at learning from making mistakes (there have been many). With that, here is a summer summary of all I have been up to!


June

Alpaca’d my bags for a South Dakota wedding

Covid has thrown quite a wrench in plans; especially wedding plans. When my best friend told me her wedding was moved to an alpaca farm in South Dakota, I had no clue what that would entail. The venue was unique; like a tiny town filled with a farmhouse, guest houses, so much green space, and of course, alpacas everywhere. It turned out to be a great weekend with so many laughs and a whole lotta love. Seeing Anna read her vows just like we talked about when we were little finally cracked me and I got happy tears for the first time in my life. It was a blast getting ready with the girls in the morning as we cranked up the tunes, got our hair done, and enjoyed our time doing all the girly things that I’ll never admit I actually like doing. The bridesmaids stayed in our own rustic little house which felt like the ultimate middle school sleepover including giddy girl talk, and bachelorette festivities in which I learned I am absolutely terrible at the bachelorette version of pin the tail on the donkey (terrible, as in, put my paper underpants on a mug hanging on an adjacent wall).

Before we left the girl cave for the ceremony, we all circled around Anna, placing a hand on her and each praying over her and her new life she was about to begin minutes away. In that moment, a flashback played in my mind of our childhood filled with matching outfits, forts built, movie nights, waterpark days, watching fireworks every year on 4th of July together, lunch dates, Starbucks chats during breaks in college talking about the future, and all the milestones we shared together up until this one. This was one of the most moving moments I have experienced in my life, and God’s presence was felt when it was my turn to pray over the sister I never had. Definitely hard to choke back the tears, those flashbacks get me every time! I am so thankful I got to witness her happily ever after…and get a picture with an alpaca which I’m way more excited about than I should be, as you can see, nothing but pure joy.

Found myself a fine fella

Since my work start date was pushed to July, I had all the time in the world, but no clue how to fill it. I mean, there is only so much grocery shopping, and cleaning I can do! God must have seen my countless occurrences of vacuuming an already vacuumed floor because He gave me the best distraction from my housewife-like duties that now occupies the majority of my free time. I have always been a pretty independent person, so if you told me in May I would be going from doing most things on my own; to having a gym buddy, dinner date to test out new places with , bachelor Monday companion, and would be spending almost every single day of the week with some dude named Jeff- I probably would have looked at you like you had five eyeballs. This has now become the best reality and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I love having a constant person to call up, confide in, experience new experiences with, embarrass myself in front of, and have fun with all the time even if it’s just a trip to the grocery store.

I can confidently say my summer would not have been as fulfilling and eventful without him and all we’ve done together. Meeting him shortly after I moved in is something I credit to God’s good timing, because I can’t even tell you what I would have done all summer, or how I would have adjusted to being on my own for the first time! What a blessing it is having a partner in crime to navigate this weird time of life, create new inside jokes and routines with, and go on new adventures to check off items on our “date list”. It’s a great feeling when you find someone who brings out the best in you; especially parts of you that you never knew were there before, the parts you forgot you had, and makes you forget about the parts you don’t like. While I did just fine going 22 years without this dude named Jeff; I like the version of myself when I’m with him and who he pushes me to be- healthier and happier. He’s now become a new character I can write into my story- and sometimes the most impactful characters aren’t the ones at the beginning. I now know what it feels like to be respected, cared for, accepted for being me and all that entails, what a good jump shot actually looks like, how important values and interests are, going to the bathroom at their place for the first time is nothing to be afraid of (don’t even pretend y’all don’t know what I’m talking about), independence all the time isn’t necessarily a good thing, and that corn hole can get pretty competitive. For the record, this is as smitten kitten and you’ll probably ever see me be. Consider it a one time only exclusive.

Celebrated my first project

To give some context; I was told by Boom Lab upon being hired that there are few times where consultants will be chosen to interview for a project before they even complete their training, so when I was told that Allianz wanted to interview me for a position- I was somewhat surprised because I was the only psychology major while the rest of my coworker consultants were business or computer science. I felt a sense of accomplishment I had never felt before because I realized that the untraditional route to the business world didn’t hurt me, but rather helped me. I’ve always worked hard to get to where I am even when it scares me and I have no clue what I am doing, but I know what potential I have, the work I’ll put in, and that I bring new perspectives and talents to what I do. It was a great feeling being validated by the fact someone else saw that in me too.

Prior to my first Allianz interview, I made a deal with my friends that if I got the gig, I would host a girl’s night at my place, attempt to make a charcuterie board, and would have my first ever drink in my life (for those of you who know me well, you know just how big of a deal that last one is). Covid interviews are like no other. I used my psychological hacks to make me feel less nervous by sporting a spiffy Calvin Klein suit for my zoom interview to look professional, with my tennis shoes on bottom because heels in my brain are associated with all the scary interviews I did in my early college years. It’s a simple equation: suit + heels = extreme nerves, suit+Nikes = less nerves, (it’s a counterbalance type deal and made sense in my head). I also never would have imagined I would be doing an interview while sitting on my coffee table since that spot had the only blank white wall behind it- but it made for a good way to crack a joke and break the ice. Think about all the “just covid things” you’ve done for work, and now put them in the pre covid context…it makes for a good laugh! My dweeby suit and tennis shoes method must have done something right because I got the job as a project coordinator on the Allianz Virtual Client team. June was a month full of so much good; moving to my own place, landing my first project at work, petting alpacas, Minneapolis skyline sunsets, meeting that dude name Jeff, and, having my first ever drink with the gals. I felt on top of the world and so grateful that all good things hit me at once, but as they say, what goes up….must come down.

July

Starting July with a “Boom”

The first week of July started off great! I officially started my big girl job at Boom Lab with our one week of consultant training- something that is a trademark of Boom Lab. I learned about so many resources such as Kablan tables, Jira, Power BI, waterfall methodologies (the only waterfalls I do go chasin’), and that no matter how hard I try to comprehend Excel, it never does fully stick with me. I found it funny that everyone, except me, said their least favorite training session was about personality and communication types. This exposed the fact that I was the only psychology major in a field of business majors pretty quickly. While I would have loved to finally meet my consultant class who I came to know very well throughout the previous months in Kahoot Trivia happy hours, what better way to kick off IT consultant training than by full immersing in all technology based, virtual training? Throughout the week, we worked on a mock client project in small teams which entailed being presented with a problem, and our team had to come up with a solution for their business by developing a website, fake data, data analytic tools, marketing strategies, and communicating all this to our client in daily meetings. The final day, we presented our project to the whole group, as well as some of the back office in which we had to be fully prepared to be grilled with questions after. The great thing about virtual presentations, is that no one knows what you’re truly wearing, so some of our group decided to wear our blazers on top and pajama pants on the bottom. By the end of the week; my eyes were bloodshot, I had never been so exhausted, made some new virtual buddies, and everything was a blur and I cannot tell you how I absorbed all that information but somehow it is all there. I loved every second of it!

Learning the ABCs of AVCs

Before I get into my series of unfortunate events that led to my downhill spiral I call July, I’m going to dig into the exciting new project I am on and see how confused I can make you. Just to refresh- I am a project management associate at Boom Lab, and through this, I get hired out on projects to different fortune 500 companies around the Twin Cities. While I would have been grateful to be placed anywhere, I am so glad to have been assigned to Allianz, not only because they are a great company and the project I am assigned to will teach me more than I ever need to know, but the 7 minute commute every morning if Covid ever ends is what excites me most. My assignment is on the Allianz Virtual Client (AVC) team. In short- my team is working on three giant projects all at once; distributing new hardware to everyone, upgrading Citrix software, and the overarching project: deploying virtual desktops to Allianz users around the globe with the goal to allow employees to pull up their desktop on any device, not just one device, make processes more efficient, and cost efficient. The desktop itself is housed in a data center in Phoenix, Arizona, so while the desktop may look like it is right in front of their eyeballs, they’re actually looking at it in Arizona (weird wormhole time travel voo doo technology sounding stuff). They say the best way to learn to swim is to just be thrown in and learn how to paddle, well, that can be applied to the IT world too, because there has been no better way for me to learn the lingo, infrastructure, and hardware than to be thrown in during a global launch.

Kind of started at Allianz

Typically starting a new job is pretty black and white; either you start, or you don’t. I always seem to find a way to be an exception. My walk on cloud nine in June ended the first day of work. The picture above documents this monumental first day- and that smile in that selfie was the last smile I’d show for a long time after that. I wasn’t feeling well and chalked it up to being exhausted from having to use my brain more than usual from this thing adults do termed “work”. Unfortunately, that was not the case as my thermometer spit back at me a lovely 100 later that night. Let me tell you, any inkling of sickness during a pandemic makes matters so much worse. Back in college, if I was sick I would come home or my mom would come with everything I needed, but now that my body temperature went up a whopping 2 degrees I was told I could not come home, and could not leave my apartment until I was tested for the one that shall not be named. I feel like there is an odd stigma about covid- if there is any chance you have it, or actually have it, it must not be talked about unless you want the rest of society to avoid you like the plague- literally. I’m not one to feel sorry for myself; but as my temperature climbed, my tolerance to cold plummeted, the sweat soaked through my sheets, breathing became harder, and my body ached as badly as it did after my old power circuits in gymnastics, all I could do was lie sprawled out crying into the phone to my mom like that would change things, when in reality the hyperventilating made my already shortness of breath even shorter. It was so hard being alone in those two weeks; not really telling anyone or being able to explain why I couldn’t hang out so I wouldn’t make them scared of me, and even harder to have the motivation and physical strength to do the basic things to take care of myself, let alone work a 40 hour week!

I tried so hard to be as engaged at work as I could, after all, I had only been on the job one day. You know something is seriously wrong with me if I turn down coffee since my stomach could only handle the thought of chicken noodle soup and gatorade. It was so hard to try to barely stay awake and focused while trying to learn my new role! I knew I needed to draw the line when I took multitasking to a new level by being on a call with another country all while getting sick in the bathroom with my laptop propped up on my bathtub, trying to comprehend software defects. Fun times! I ended up taking two days off of work in my first week, and while my team was understanding as get all – I already awarded myself with worst employee of the month in my mind. It was a terrible feeling to be the “new guy” and not understand much because IT is not the easiest field to pick up in a week, all while feeling the most sick I have ever felt in my life. From this, I definitely learned that it is ok to take care of yourself sometimes rather than perform at half your best (for me I think I only had a good 13% of myself to give). Up until this point it sounds like I had covid, right? After 2 covid tests (both nose/brain swab and throat swab, I am well seasoned in covid testing now), liver functioning test, kidney functioning test, and all other tests you can think of, everything came back negative. I am still genuinely confused about the whole ordeal because I still don’t know what had the power to wipe me out like that, but at least I now am not confused about what I’m doing at work-I’m actually getting the hang of it quite well if I do say so myself!

Kind of turned 22

Somewhere between figuring out what a mobile wyse was, and microwaving soup many times a day- I turned 22. I like to joke that I skipped my birthday this year because I was too sick to care that I made it another year around the sun. I felt quite the opposite of alive between the lingering nausea and dizziness, which at my age should be caused by one too many margaritas on their birthday, not a fever. In reality, I postponed my birthday to August. The day of my birthday, I put in a full day of work, then mustered up the energy to go celebrate with my family. By celebrate, I mean put on clothes other than pajamas in two weeks, take a nebulizer treatment (throwback to my wheezing days) to try to help me breathe better, tolerate a few french fries and a bite of birthday cake because I had no appetite for celebrating, or food. I had a strict no picture rule because if I looked as bad as I felt, I would feel even worse if those ended up on my mom’s Facebook page later. While I wasn’t the most cheerful birthday girl, it felt so nice to be around people again since I hadn’t seen anyone for those two previous weeks. It definitely will be a birthday I won’t forget, that’s for sure.

August

Finished turning 22

When I said I postponed my birthday, I truly did. I originally had planned a deck dinner from one of my favorite restaurants with my family, Jeff, and my good friend Katherine. While that didn’t work out the first time, I made sure it did this time so my year of turning 22 wasn’t more sour than all the lemons on my jumpsuit combined. It turned out to be one of the best nights! It doesn’t take much to please me; good food and great company was all I needed this year. Jeff and I make a great team in a lot of things, but especially corn hole, because we beat Christopher and Katherine every time. The night ended with a bonfire with s’mores upon my request since I have been talking about them all summer. There is nothing I like more than a crunchy, charred, absolutely blackened marshmallow. While some of the reason I prefer this way is because I don’t have the patience to babysit a marshmallow, it also is fun to stick it in the fire and watch it blow up. My family calls it burnt, but I call it gourmet flambe! #wifemeup

Childhood dream fulfilled

As a kid, I used to sit in front of the TV and watch the mesmerizing commercials of smiling little kids spinning around a toilet bowl slide and disappearing through the little hole wondering where they went. Ever since then, I always wanted to go to the Wisconsin Dells so I could answer that question. When I got invited to spend a weekend there with Jeff and his friends, my brain pulled out the memory of the commercial from 15 years ago. I had no clue that The Dells was more than a waterpark- no wonder there was always so much hype about it! We spent a lot of time at the waterparks, both indoor and outdoor, in which the running joke was making me stand by the “you must be this tall” sign before every slide. We also ventured to an escape room, went mini golfing, out for drinks, dinners – we did in fact wear moose antlers the whole time one night – and a nearby boardwalk that made me feel like I was in Florida rather than the land of cheese. It was a great weekend and little getaway with Jeff and his friends – never a dull moment! This was my first trip anywhere without my parents, or not on a gymnastics trip, surprisingly. Only took me a good 22 years. I ended the weekend leaving with the answer to my question; the hole dropped me right on my back causing my bikini bottoms to fly off. Not quite the answer I wanted, but I think the lifeguard didn’t mind! As much as I loved my time there, I was glad to be back in Minnesota where there weren’t so many billboards about Culvers and cheese.

Down to the lake

I am so used to going UP to the family cabin in Aitkin, MN, but sadly, the end of an era hit this summer. Casey’s Commonwealth will no longer have the Casey name, and our family became cabinless. You know what they say, if you don’t have a cabin, become friends with someone who does. I took a trip all the way down to Iowa to spend the weekend with Jeff and his friends and family at their lake place. It was one of the best weekends I’ve had all summer! I don’t think I have laughed so hard in years between the bonehead moves from some of the guys, and the stories his family told me. It felt so nice to not lay a finger on my phone the whole weekend (hence the lack of pictures). Getting a break from social media, work emails, and keeping up snapchat streaks was more refreshing than I thought. I could actually feel my stress levels start to rise again once I was reunited with my email inbox.

The first night we got there, we went out on a very late night pontoon ride while serenading the whole lake with Mr. Brightside which in reality sounded like a dying group of whales. All of Saturday was spent skiing (Jeff skiing, I don’t like to stand on moving things), floating around and getting to know everyone, burning ourselves to a crisp, learning what a Made-Rite is (you’re not “rite” it’s called a Sloppy Joe), more boating and bad serenades, explaining many times how I went from psychology to IT consulting, further explaining that Allianz is pronounced Ah-Lee-Ahnce and not Uh-Lie-Ance, flips off the boat (my time to shine as I pulled out the big guns with some gymnast tricks), card games, and a seltzer taste test to see which one is the best (Vizzy and Truly in case you were wondering).

Later that night we went on another late night cruise, and lemme tell ya, the Iowa sky compared to Minnesota’s isn’t even comparable. What I learned in Astronomy my freshman year of college finally came in handy which I never thought it would, and I was able to see all the constellations I read about. It felt so unreal being able to look up and see the Milky Way, and several shooting stars which I thought only existed in Lucky Charms cereal. One of my favorite parts of the weekend was getting to know Jeff’s family and friends; it felt like I knew them for a lot longer than 24 hours. By the end of the weekend, I left the lake with new friendships, lots of great memories, embarrassing stories about Jeff from his mom, double date plans, an invite back (always a good sign), and a great case of sun poisoning. As I lie here typing this with swollen balloon hands, swollen cheeks, a blistering nose and burns that make me look like Bob the tomato from veggie tales; I can say I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

Didn’t go back to college

At this same time last year, I remember sitting in my usual spot at Starbucks 4 days before heading back to Gustavus typing up a new blog about what I will miss about college, but also what I won’t miss. Now, just like college freshmen are starting their new routines, it’s like I am starting my freshmen year of the adult world as I adjust to my new normal, too. It is the weirdest feeling not scrambling to move back for another year- but in these circumstances, I feel extremely grateful for where I am at and not having to navigate an already stressful college life. But like I mentioned, there are some things I will miss, but also the things I won’t. I definitely am not missing the things I predicted I wouldn’t miss (there are no custodians to flash in the shower here), but also, the things I thought I would miss aren’t gone or leaving a gap in my life, they’re just replaced by new and different things. College was my tool to get me to where I wanted to be, and I prayed at this time last year that my senior year would bring me all I needed to be successful and in the best spot possible starting as a working woman. Now that I can say that was achieved, I don’t have much of desire to go back because I love where I am at now, the work I do, the people I’ve met, the team I’m on, and the new healthier habits I’ve created. They say to enjoy your years at college because you have the whole rest of your life to work; but if your work is something that makes you feel valued, productive, and you enjoy it, then there is nothing wrong with closing the metaphorical college yearbook. I will always cherish my memories on the Hill, especially when those memories are safe in my mind on the Hill that was untouched by covid which makes them even more sacred.

To summarize my summer summary, all I have to say is it has been quite the ride. People say this is the worst summer ever, but for me, it’s been pretty dang great when looking at all the blessings in disguise. Sure, I would have loved to start work in person, go on regular dates with Jeff, go everywhere without a mask, and out to places I love to go to in the summer. But at the same time; working from home allowed me to fully recover from my not-Covid mystery fully and be able to go at my own pace. Less normalcy allowed me to get to know Jeff on a deeper level faster through talking more and spending more time together since there’s not much to do other than enjoy each other’s company and conversations. Masks have allowed me run to the grocery real quick looking terrible and not caring because it covers up a good amount of my face 🙂 Typical summer festivities being disrupted allowed me to focus on myself, get out of my comfort zone, and find new things that I love. I hope by this time next year when I am typing up another end of summer blog- I’ll be able to say I turned 23 on time, had a successful deployment at work, danced terribly at more weddings, took more trips with Jeff, celebrated more victories with something other than Mike’s Hard Lemonade since I learned they’re honestly not that great, got over my fear of fish at the lake, and lastly, I hope I will be able to say that I know what my coworkers look like rather than what they sound like!

Thanks for stopping by, folks

~Lauren

Little Lessons from Apartment Living

I am well into a week of living a life where I’ve upgraded my twin bed to a queen, and my dorm room view of a dumpster to downtown. Hannah Montana once said “this is the life, hold on tight,” and that basically sums up everything thus far. I have absolutely loved my new transition, and knowing that I am fully responsible for keeping myself alive at this point. I expected some road blocks such as cooking gone wrong, the dryer eating my socks, or even another hairdryer on fire to make that number four; but none of that has happened at all…yet. There are just some things you don’t even know you will encounter until you dive into a new lifestyle, and this post is for all the little things I have come to realize are either helpful or hurtful.


Non-stick skillets are a lie

I am a very trusting person. I always trust what people say and give others the benefit of the doubt even when it comes back to bite me in the butt. This also applies to cookware. I was so excited to get my first set of non-stick skillets from my aunt who has otherwise been known as “The Kentucky egg lady.” With those credentials, and her past of omelette demonstrations all around Kentucky, I had full faith in these new pans of mine that they truly were non-stick. Since I moved out, I’ve become more adventurous, leading to making pancakes for the first time in my life, and by that, I mean the first time since 6th grade FACS class where I truly don’t remember what the ingredients were or if my group mates let me be around the stove (smart cookies, they were). I had a Gordon Ramsay vibe going as I mixed up my gourmet batter of Kodiak Protein Pancake mix and water, and spooned my first helping onto my non-stick skillet. I soon found out the marketing tactics got me, and my sad pancake was stuck to the pan like my thighs stick to a leather seat on a hot day. I eventually scraped it off into a taco looking thing and tried to redeem myself by doing an airborne pancake flip like they do in the movies to make sure the other side was cooked to the point of no return, too. The tacocake stuck the perfect 10 landing smack dab on the floor. Did I eat it? Yeah I did. I put way too much effort into that to literally throw it away. I see cooking spray and a spatula in my brunching future.

Flying food hazard

I’m going to start by saying this happened on a Terrible Tuesday (for those of you who have not been following me- since 6th grade something odd or weird has happened to me every Tuesday without fail). I meal planned for a nice and easy frozen black bean burger for dinner to enjoy out on my balcony. All was going well until I tried to shut the balcony door, causing my plate to tilt a little bit, which created the perfect trajectory of launch ramp for my veggie patty that was slippery from my cooking spray (learned my lesson from the pancakes) to slide right off my plate and off my 6th floor balcony. A few seconds later I heard a crisp splat, then a very loud scream. I peeked my eyeballs over the railing to find my veggie patty about a foot away from a little old lady from the senior living place next door. After yelling a very awkward sorry, I played the scene over and over in my head (go ahead and try it), and I don’t think I have laughed so hard in a long time over the thought of a hazardous vegan veggie patty falling from the sky. Whoever said walking under ladders is bad luck was all wrong.

Keep yourself busy

One thought I had this week is that living on my own now is so much different from living on my own in college. The difference is that now, I truly could sit in bed all day and no one would even know. I could drive to Florida and back and no one would know. I can cook anything I want with as much dairy and gluten as my heart desires and no one but my poor insides would know. I could decide to go rollerblading and run into a mailbox and no one would know. I can do literally anything I want and have so many choices! But of course, psychology says, the paradox of choice is having too many choices can lead to anxiety, and more stress (did you really think I was going to go a blog post without any psych?) Many of you know that I love to stay busy, so having to wait until work starts in September has been extremely hard for me because I am terrible at relaxing and sitting still for more than an hour. With that, all the tasks that most people hate doing such as laundry, grocery shopping, going to the bank, cleaning my windows, vacuuming, doctors appointments etc..have been rewarding for me! It’s a good feeling to make a to do list and check things off as they get done. I like the sense of responsibility since I’ve never really had it before at Gustavus. Surprisingly, my not busy summer stays pretty busy between spreading out my tasks, meal planning and prepping, and reaching out to old friends that I haven’t seen in a while! Initiative is a beautiful thing.

Meal planning is a must

I didn’t know how important this point was until it hit me that even thought I cooked myself something one night, I have to do it all over again the next day, and the next day. I first thought I would make something in bulk and eat the same thing all week long, and I never thought the day would come where I was tired of taco salad, but it came. Feeding myself is not something I am used to: my mom cooked for me growing up while I was at practice, and our family loves to go to restaurants. Gustavus had a 4 year meal plan that I took full advantage of. Needless to say, this was probably the biggest adjustment. What makes things harder is I am absolutely terrible at deciding what I want to eat- so the meal plan has been super helpful as I don’t need to decide because I already spent a solid hour trying to decide for my future self a few days before as I scroll through my Pinterest recipes trying to predict what I’ll want 5 days from now (following me?). I’ve been trying to cut the amount of time trying to decide what I want for the week by making designating Meatless Monday, Try something new Tuesday, Breakfast for dinner Wednesay, Leftovers Thursday, Frozen Meal Friday, Free space Saturday, and Salad Sunday. This is what the inside of a perfectionist’s brain looks like in case you were wondering.

Enjoy the little things

I know, I say this a lot, but this became so true all over again once I moved out. My mornings here are so peaceful; I have a great view of the Minneapolis skyline as the sun rises every morning, which makes morning workouts a lot less painful. Being able to wake up with the rest of the city, cup of coffee in my unicorn mug and daily gratitude and goal setting, has been the best way to start my day and is like a calm before the storm. It makes makes me remember why I am a morning person. I fully realize this will probably be the only time in my life I will live in a place like this with no job to rush off to everyday in which my mornings won’t look like this anymore. Or where I can watch the skyline light up at night and try to guess what color the skyscraper will turn next. It will probably be the only time I can people watch for hours while some weirdos do odd things because they don’t realize I’m out here such as the man flexing in is reflection in the window for a solid 5-7 minutes after a yoga session. I was told to truly embrace life as a twenty something year old, and now I finally realize what they mean.

See someone, say something

Instagram and Snap stories have been working in my favor ever since I moved. It’s so cool to see how many people from college already live around me, making it so much easier to continue old friendships and traditions like acting out the dock scene in Mama Mia with my best friend like we have since we were kids (we’ve got it down solid), but even start some new friendships. It’s also been so fun living by my brother again and getting close to him like we were when we were inseparable as kids. I never thought I would be reaching out to him to get a dose of coffee and lake walk some mornings after being used to being apart for 4+ years. Inviting myself over has now turned into a permanent invite to his friend “family dinners.” Recently I had the rare motivation to go run Lake Harriet instead of another HIIT workout in my apartment so I didn’t upset the people that live below me, my b I have to do my daily burpees! To my surprise I saw a very familiar pair of aviators that I recognized belonged to the face of a former Gustie. Have I ever met them? No. Have I ever talked to them? No. Have I come to “know” them because I follow them and their aviators on Instagram? Affirmative. Since then I have been able to say I befriended them through our Gustie connection and can add another friend to my list of people that live by me to hang out with. Reaching out to people never was my strong suit in college, but now, it’s opened up a lot more doors and has made a lot more weekends not free!

Take a paper grocery list to the store

No, not because I am forgetful (even though I am). Something about having an actual list in my hand is comforting and makes me feel like an experienced shopper or a soccer mom that drives a mini van even though the workers watch me do circles around the same area looking for feta cheese the past ten minutes. It also works as a great tool for when you don’t want to make eye contact with someone as you scoot by them, just look down and pretend you’re avidly shopping for your broccoli. My first grocery trip, I used a list on my phone, and I realized that I in fact looked like a teenager who couldn’t spend 5 minutes without going on Instagram and fell victim to texting and carting. I also ran into the issue of the cashier asking where my mom was so she could pay for my groceries, later revealing he thought I was 14 after I told him I just graduated from college. Since resorting to a paper list, I have not been mistaken as a teenager, and while good ol’ paper grocery lists may not correlate with looking like an adult, I’m just going with it.

Showers are not one size fits all…or are they?

I always have known my limits being short; high cabinets, top shelves, anything at Sam’s Club, you know, typical stuff. But showers? That is a new one. I never thought I would be short enough to the point where I have to stand on my tip toes every night to get all of my shampoo out of my hair. To make matters worse, because I am not tall enough to play monkey in the middle with the shower head and the wall, the water ricochets all over the floor to basically make my bathroom into a second bath tub. I had the maintenance men come take a look at it (also to fix my toilet seat because to my surprise one anchor was out and I slid right off onto the floor like my veggie patty did off my balcony), but they said they could not fix the shower head because it was made for tall people. At that point I didn’t know whether to apologize for my shortness, or for the future water damage it will be causing if I don’t figure it out, so of course the only thing I knew to do was call my dad. He showed up prepared to install a new swivel shower head, but within a second of looking at the old one, moved it to suit my shortness….turns out I just don’t know the anatomy of a shower head and which parts move. I bet that instilled a lot of confidence in my parents for letting me live on my own now. Gotta learn these little things somehow!

Go on a walking tour

Something I have come to enjoy this past week is my nightly walks to figure out where the heck I live. Moving here, I had no clue that I lived by a giant waterpark, a big walking trail, Excelsior & Grand, way too many geese, my beloved Starbucks, and all these places I had heard about but had no clue where they were. Every Wednesday, I have been lacing up the walking shoes and testing out some new routes and sidewalks that lead to a new place I want to try or go into. I never understood what the appeal of St. Louis Park was to young folks, but now I get it the more I decide to drive the long way home or go walk a new sidewalk. I still have yet to enter into my first ever Trader Joe’s, but that definitely is at the top of my list (it’s a legit list, I like lists) of places to go. I never thought would like anywhere other than Eagan, oh how the tables have turned.

Routine is everything

There is a difference between staying busy, and having a routine. This may reveal my perfectionism/Type A personality just a little bit, but I need a routine for my days, and my weeks, in order to feel like I am not lost or off track. In the past, when I have strayed from routine, I thought I was lost like I am when I try to figure out what way is north. Productivity and routine are interchangeable for me- and I feel my best when I am productive. Similarly to my meal plan designations, I do the same thing for the days of the week. Bachelor Monday, Towel and sheet cleaning Tuesday, Walk after dinner Wednesday, Laundry Thursday, Fancy coffee Friday, Sprint Saturday, and Shop for groceries Sunday. It’s like a giant to-do list that each day I can check off. My mornings all start the same: my cup of coffee and alone time. That is the base of my day and that structure is so comforting when things around me may not be. I always try to start and end my days like a sandwich; morning routine and night routine about as easy and bland as a slice of bread- but each day filled with something different in between. The reason I do this is because some days may taste like a peanut butter/mustard/*insert more bad combos here* sandwich, but ending the day with something familiar and easy leads to a fresh slice of bread the next morning without any peanut butter and mustard residue left over to ruin your awesome peanut butter and jelly kind of day. To sum it up: make your life a sandwich. Cheesy analogy? Yeah. Effective? I’d say so.

I know these may seem childish or silly, but honestly, it’s the weird and totally vague things that no one talks about! At this age, it can be hard to establish a life all while making a fool of yourself, and that is okay- in fact, I don’t mind it. Don’t get me wrong, I know life is going to get harder once I start my 9-5 life and my biggest problem will be a lot greater than watching my pancake hit the floor. I fully predict I am going to be making another one of these posts in a few months documenting all the barriers I knew I would encounter as a working woman, but talking about the scenarios I can’t even make up in my head right now. As much as I have said I love planning- honestly I am excited for the uncertainty of what the next step of adult life, because I am the one who got me here, and every hardship I encounter next stems from the fact that I reached my goals that I set for myself in college. It’s time for me to set some new goals; making the perfect pancake, refraining from patty target practice, finding the feta faster, go on a date at one of the restaurants I’ve found, be a sandwich, figure out the skyscraper light pattern, stay busy, shower without leftover suds, and of course, land my first project at work!

I hope some of my failures brought a few laughs- I know I’ve still been laughing at the image of a flying veggie burger for a week now.

~Lauren