tradition.

24 Nov

One of the reasons I started this blog was to help myself take stock of all of the things that I’m thankful for, so I try to keep track all the time – not just on special occasions. But since today is Thanksgiving (and I’m probably going to be called on to give an answer to the question of what I’m thankful for later on today), I decided to try to list some things for which I am profoundly grateful, but which I might usually take for granted.

I’m thankful for…
laughter
the fact that I’m not allergic to dogs
books and music
the opportunity to get an education
the fact that I have not yet had to buy a car (thanks, mom & dad!)
cameras
my dad’s cousin laura & all my other family members who slave away over thanksgiving dinner for 30+ people every year
the world and all the different places in it
biola university
the fact that we live in a country in which we have as much freedom as we do
breakfast foods
languages
art
inspiration
growth
God’s love and strength that I know I can always rely on
kind and positive people
growing up so close to Disneyland!
my grandmothers
my family’s health and safety
mattresses, clean sheets, blankets, pillows
my roommates
rain
the chance to live out a life here on this earth, and make it a good one.

Happy Thanksgiving! Have a wonderful day, try to be nice to your family, unbutton your pants, and eat lots of mashed potatoes and pie. Don’t let me find out that you didn’t.

in utah.

23 Nov

The view from my car window on the drive up.

Guys, do you have any idea how beautiful it is in Utah? The house we’re staying in (it belongs to my dad’s cousin, Laura, and her husband, Jim, and it’s amazing) looks out on a huge valley that is almost completely surrounded by gigantic, snow-covered mountains, with a lake shimmering in the distance. It’s breathtaking.

Today consisted of not much more than a late breakfast, some reading, and a trip to the Provo Mall before making the drive out to Lehi for my [second] cousin [once removed] Kiezek’s sixth birthday party.

Kiezek is the coolest. He had a motorcycle-shaped cake. And I spent the rest of the night trying to snap picture after picture of him, his brother Jaysten, and his sister Mylie.

So glad we got to be a part of Kiezek’s birthday! I love my little cousins.

well, it is the most wonderful time of the year.

22 Nov

Probably my favorite decoration that’s always up at our house at Christmastime.

Since there are only two days (two!) until Thanksgiving now, I think it’s well past time for me to start getting deliriously excited for this holiday season. Brother and I drove home tonight so he could pack before we leave tomorrow at eight in the morning to spend Thanksgiving in Utah with the rest of the Bischof clan – I’m so excited! I don’t think it’s going to snow while we’re there…unfortunately…but I brought my snow boots just in case!

What I’m really excited about is getting back from Utah, because in my opinion Christmas starts the day after Thanksgiving (or at least on December 1st) and I have serious plans to start celebrating the season in full force. This year I can’t wait for:

  • Bringing home a real Christmas tree and decorating my parents’ house while listening to Amy Grant’s Home For Christmas album (I have driven home in early December every single year I’ve been away at college for the sole purpose of making sure this tradition gets honored and that I am a part of it)
  • Roommate Secret Santa (yes!)
  • Going to as many Christmas parties as possible (Christmas party season is right around the corner!)
  • Buying poinsettias
  • Spending a whole week at home with my family
  • The Christmas tree lighting in the Orange Circle next weekend
  • Disneyland (I went last weekend and it’s already decorated! I’m hoping they still have the fireworks show with the fake snow…)
  • Going to Mammoth for a few days in between Christmas and New Year’s (where it BETTER be snowing…)
  • Sledding! (This will happen.)
  • Going to the Christmas Eve service at church
  • Lots of apple cider and hot chocolate
  • Listening to Holidays On Ice, which I just downloaded from Audible
  • Spending as much time as possible near fireplaces
  • Watching A Christmas Story. And Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean. And A Benihana Christmas.
  • Christmas day, presents, stockings, and seeing my mom’s side of the family.
  • Holiday dinners.
  • Sitting in a hot tub in freezing weather.
  • Eating peppermint bark. And Dreyer’s peppermint ice cream, which only comes out around Christmastime, giving me little to no reason to live the rest of the year.
  • Christmas music. Obviously.

Please tell me what you’re looking forward to this Christmas season! I’d love to hear about your holiday traditions, ideas, and plans for this year!

the attainment of happiness

21 Nov

I’ve spent the last few months thinking a lot about happiness. How to get it, mostly. The answer, I’ve found, lies in the same place most answers lie – in finding a balance. In this case, a balance between change and contentment. Between identifying what it is that is making you unhappy and altering those factors, and learning how to be happy in whatever circumstances you currently find yourself.

One of my favorite things in life is when things keep popping up in different ways and different places that all lead back to the same idea or concept, things that are so closely related that it makes it so obvious what lesson life is teaching you right now. It reminds me of when somehow I realize that I’m studying the same exact thing, albeit in different ways, in three of my different and completely unrelated classes. I’m going through one of these times right now – not in school, but in life. I think it started around the beginning of this semester when this period of general malaise and discontent started. I started trying to figure what it was that was making me unhappy when, on the surface, it seemed I had no reason to be – and I started trying to figure out how I could get happy again.

When I mentioned something along these lines to my – I don’t even know what to call her, my therapist? That just sounds so weird – anyway, her name is Charis, and when I mentioned to her how inexplicably unhappy I had been feeling lately, she directed me to a mindfulness lab that a couple of Rosemead students had started to teach on Wednesday nights. I only went once, but it’s really not a difficult concept, and once you’ve grasped it you can pretty much just practice it on your own with no outside guidance, unless you want to challenge yourself more and more with it. Basically, mindfulness, or mindful meditation, is something that I think was originally taken from Buddhist meditative practices, but it really doesn’t have to have anything to do with the Buddhist religion. All it is, is simply stopping, or pausing, and becoming aware of your surroundings – and then accepting them. It’s about noticing what’s going on in your mind and your body, and letting it happen instead of fighting it. It is bringing your complete attention to the present – not the past, not the future, but now, this moment. It’s a meditative practice, but it’s something that should ideally be brought to every moment of your life for true effectiveness.

This is what mindfulness means to me. I am a high-anxiety person. I always have some sort of thought simmering underneath the surface about planning for the future, worry about something I’m anticipating, or something of that sort. When I remember to be mindful, when I pull all of my attention to focus to this moment, I become okay with this moment, no matter what is happening. It’s strange and hard to describe, but it brings such a high level of calm to my brain to stop thinking about what’s going to happen. It’s a way of taking a deep breath with my soul and recalibrating myself within my surroundings, instead of attempting to control my surroundings – which is really impossible. I never want to totally lose my thirst for the change element of life, for my ambition, for personalizing my circumstances as much as possible – but what it’s so important to remember is that sometimes I can’t change things. I can only change the way I encounter and deal with them, the way I process them through my psyche and my actions.

Cut to last weekend, when I’m doing a last-minute reading of Samuel Johnson’s philosophical fable The History of Rasselas for my British lit class. Imagine my surprise when this strange story I’ve never heard of out of my Norton anthology starts sounding really familiar as Johnson posthumously draws parallels between my life and that of Rasselas, unbeknownst to him. Rasselas is a prince of Abyssinia who lives in this place called the happy valley with all the other princes and princesses, who have never known any other place. Every need or desire that the royal sons and daughters could possibly foreseeably call for is thought of and provided for. And yet, in the face of this life lived in the lap of luxury, with no clear desires to be seen, Rasselas finds himself in a state of discontent. He realizes that he does have a desire – he desires something, anything, to desire. He comes to the conclusion that contentment in life is partially found in identifying and meeting one’s needs, but he has never had the chance to do this. He feels that there must be something better out there, and so he escapes from the happy valley to seek for his choice of life, to find the contentment he longs for.

Spoiler alert: Rasselas does not find the happiness he thought he would in the outside world, and ends up returning to Abyssinia, his high expectations having been disappointed. But reading this story brought into focus a thought I had been sort of looking at out of the corners of my eyes for a while – the idea that happiness is largely not created by your external circumstances, but your internal circumstances. Even if Rasselas continued to search for happiness, he would not have found it, because it’s clear that his main problem was that he just wasn’t the kind of person who found contentment easily. I know this because I am one of those people. I am good at identifying things in my life that I want to change, pretty good at changing them, and not so good at staying happy with these changes. So I’ve started to realize that the problem isn’t with my circumstances; the problem is with me.

And then I came across this article online last week.

“Life only sucks if you do.

I know, that is a strong statement. But you see, here’s the hard truth – life isn’t how we see it; how we see life is how WE ARE.

If you’re having a stressful day, you are actually bringing stress to the day.

If people are mean, you are bringing the judgment of mean to everyone you see.

If you can’t seem to get a break, it’s because you are choosing to see failure as permanent instead of a sign showing you where to go.

If life isn’t fair, then the rules you have made up about life are holding you back…

We get from life what we bring to it. Plain and simple.

This doesn’t mean things will always go our way; this doesn’t meant that tragedy won’t strike; this doesn’t mean that life won’t be challenging.

But, what this does mean is that we have the power to apply an empowering meaning to what happens and we can choose to learn and grow. Anyone who is successful has overcome challenges, personally, professionally and spiritually.

Our aim should be to train our minds to be strong like strong muscles, so that we can apply an empowering meaning to tough times. As we walk The Path we must become the person it takes to manifest our dreams, otherwise we are simply wishing, hoping and dreaming. We must act.

Going to the gym with weak muscles and just positive thinking your way through to being able to curl 100lbs won’t do it. We have to work. And we have to be willing to go through the pain, but instead of being held captive by the pain of growth, love it and be grateful for it.”

And now I decide how I want to be. Do I still want to look honestly at my life and identify the things that I could change to make life easier, happier, better, and then change those things? Yes. I always want to be growing, changing, knowing myself more and creating the life that I want to live. But I also want to learn to take things in stride. To face setbacks with determination and action, not with dejection and complaining. I want to find an inner equilibrium, something that will keep me steady through every stage of my life. A quote from Rasselas: “Do not disturb your mind with other hopes or fears than reason may suggest: If you are pleased with prognostics of good, you will be terrified likewise with tokens of evil, and your whole life will be a prey to superstition.” I take this with a grain of salt. I don’t want to lose the enthusiasm I feel when good things happen in my life, but my mind definitely gets disturbed by things a little too easily. I want to be just a little bit more steady than I already am. I want to focus just a little less attention on changing my external circumstances and just a little more attention on strengthening my internal state. That way, I know I’ll be ready to face whatever comes my way – and I’ll be able to do it with a smile on my face.

I can smell his face.

16 Nov

So happy that Marcel is back.

eleven-twelve.

16 Nov

Middlesex, a miniature pinscher, and questionably-colored nail polish.

Fall in La Mirada

The insanity that is my “school purse.” That’s three books, one beat-up Bible, one planner, one laptop, one notebook, one wallet, one huge camera, one pair of sunglasses that miraculously aren’t broken (yet), and two cookies from McDonald’s. Not pictured: a ton of other crap.

The fact that I captured this moment of terror on camera…

Big Bear Lake at sunset.

Hiking in the snow (I’ll post more pictures from Big Bear when I get my disposable camera film developed!)

Christmas glee.

10 things that make me really happy:

16 Nov

1. An email from my American lit professor telling me I did a “superb job” on my written midterm

2. Getting new issues of The New Yorker faster than I can read them!
(Those darn articles are so long!)

3. Figuring out that the secret to making it through a podcast is to listen to it in the car (Thanks, new little iTrip!)

4. Triple peanut butter ice cream
(Kyle and I have been working our way through all the flavors of Ralphs’ Private Selection ice cream. This one is INTENSE.)

5. Making dinner and eating it while listening to This American Life curled up on a little corner of our kitchen counter

6. Moments at Disneyland that continue to make me laugh long after they happened (“Did we just exorcise a demon?”)

7. Before Sunset (and, actually, Before Sunrise).
Both of which are available on Instant Netflix (my favorite kind of movie!)

8. Watching 2 Broke Girls every week

9. Our Love Is Easy by Melody Gardot and Moon River by The Honey Trees

10. Making my own breakfast burritos and watching Lost* (okay, the number of things on this list that have to do with media and entertainment is ridiculous).

*I have ONE episode left! One!