On perfectionism

I am what some people might refer to as a "perfectionist". I work super hard, I take care of my body and do my best to stay fit, I eat well, I drink lots of water, I take vitamins, I floss my teeth, I tweeze my eyebrows and woman-scape as needed, I am super organized, I hate clutter, I have tons of goals, spreadsheets, calendars, lists, etc., etc., ad nauseum. However, as I've gotten older, I've realized that there is a distinct difference between being a perfectionist and just trying to be the best version of myself.

I am not a perfectionist. There are elements of true perfectionism that I feel are negative, and that really wear on your soul and your ability to be an empathetic person, friend and family member. Perfectionism is a heavy burden to bear, and a weight on your shoulders. A monkey on your back. True perfectionism causes you to lie, and to close yourself off from other people so they won't see the imperfections that exist in your life. I am not referring to the habit some people have of only posting "happy, perfect" things on Facebook, but rather to not being able to develop real, open, close, intimate and personal friendships with others because you're so focused on appearing "perfect".

I don't think true perfectionists are able to developing lasting and happy friendships or relationships with other people, and I think their focus on the appearance of perfection not only prevents them from becoming whole, deeply and truly happy people, but also prevents their closest loved ones from becoming so (meaning, spouses, children, etc.) They keep people at arms' length that want to develop supportive and open relationships with them, because being close with those people might mean they had to admit "my family is crazy," "my kids are a nightmare", "my house is a mess", or "we are broke". They don't want their spouse to be open with others, either, and they place pressure on their spouse to make the most money, to be the fittest, to be organized, and to be all the things they see as perfect. They place pressure on their children to play sports, to be popular, to get good grades, to have the most current clothes and the straightest teeth, because if they didn't, others may see them as imperfect. An imperfect family, an imperfect spouse, an unlucky wife or a taxed parent.

"Perfect" is a social construct. I think my life is perfect. Perfectly imperfect, perfectly messy, perfectly crazy, and perfectly mine. I am very open about my flaws and my struggles (hence the starting of this blog) and I think that being open about those things actually brings me closer to my own personal perfection. I love people. I love talking to people about real things, and connecting with them, making them feel comfortable and like I am like them. (Seth tells me the reason he fell in love with me is that I make him feel comfortable just being himself, in his own skin.) I don't care if your house is small, and a mess, and you're broke, and your family is full of raging lunatics, I just don't. I do, however, want to talk about those things. About the "why" things are that way, and how it affects you, and for you to feel that you can come to me because I will be an honest sounding board, I won't judge you, and because (GASP) I have the same struggles as you! In fact - and here's the kicker - no one's life is perfect, despite what they want you to think.

The craziest thing to me about true perfectionism is that, while you are so busy feeling negatively about anything that is "wrong", or inadequate, about your life, there are probably people looking at you and going "gosh, I wish I had their skin", or "their clothes", or "their house", or "their job". And maybe that's why perfectionism is a "thing", because people want the admiration and the envy of others. But is that truly fulfilling? When you look in the mirror at the end of the day, do you feel made whole by your big house, your clean laundry, your thin body, your perfectly polished nails, the perfectly styled photos you uploaded on social media that day, and the envy you receive from others for those things? Or do you feel pressured to keep it up, to go into debt, and to be lonely to perpetuate that perception of perfection?

How boring would the world be if we were all a bunch of perfect, plastic, vapid Stepford wives? Interminably so, that's how.

Anyway. Just my two cents.
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Soooo? Is it your turn next??.....

....asks the well-meaning loved one.

The age-old question. The minute you get married, everyone can't help but ask, "So, when are you going to have kids?" Once your siblings, cousins, peers or friends begin having babies, the question becomes, "So, is it your turn next?" with a surreptitious wink. No, no, well-meaning loved one, it is not our turn next. Let me tell you why.

First off, I'd like to lead this post by saying that I am not writing this to pass judgment on my friends and family that are my age and have children. I think having a family is awesome, and an awesome responsibility - precisely one of the reasons we do not have one yet. I love babies, and baby showers, and baby things, and celebrating with my friends when they get pregnant. It has nothing to do with me judging anyone or saying that my lifestyle is better than theirs, or that the way Seth and I are choosing to live our marriage and our life is better than anyone else's choices regarding their marriages, lives, finances, goals or family-planning choices. It's all about why our timing is right for us, and about being very honest with myself about why I feel the way I do about parenthood.

Now that I've cleared the air, let me begin to tell you, well-meaning loved one, why we do not yet have children.

Disregarding the obvious - that that question may be well-meaning but could be extremely stressful and/or hurtful to someone suffering from infertility (which we are not, thankfully). That question just shouldn't be asked. But, for the purpose of this post, I won't be addressing the inherent nosiness of asking when Seth and I are going to start timing our amorous activities and I'm going to start pushing humans out of my nether-regions. Not that it's anyone's beeswax or that anyone is owed an explanation, but this is a topic that interests me at this stage of our lives.

Here is my reasoning for why we do not yet have children (Seth's reasoning is probably fairly similar, as he appears to be much further from Baby Fever Land than I am):

1) We have a specific set of benchmarks and goals we'd like to achieve for our children before we start having them. Some of these stem from the fact that I come from a  low-income family and want to feel stable and secure (financially, professionally and socially) before I start having children, some of them stem from the fact that I am an OCD control freak, and some of them stem from the fact that we are enjoying these selfish years when it is just the two of us. We have a benchmark for how much money we'd like to have saved prior to having children, we'd like to be in a house where we'd be comfortable raising them, and we'd like for both of us to be in long-term, family-friendly careers that would allow us to both raise children, spend time with each other and be able to afford what we need for them. We also have a "pre-baby bucket list" of things we would like to do, experience, and places we would like to travel before we take that next step.

2) We are selfish. We are enjoying these idealistic years together, while it is just the two of us, before we become parents forever. Once we have children, it will never be "just the two of us" again. Yeah, yeah, our kids will grow up and go to college and go on to get jobs, and yada yada. But there will always be the possibility - and likely necessity - that we will need to be a support system for them, because that will be our responsibility as their parents. I'm cool with that, and I look forward to that! But we get very few years together where it is truly just the two of us, and we aren't in a rush to plow through these years and on to that next, very permanent, stage in our lives. On a not-unrelated note, I am not ready to be confined to top-rope only climbing. Just saying.

3) Our timing will be perfect, for us. Most of our friends in Indiana have children, and none of our friends in DC have children. Culturally, Hoosiers tend to marry younger and begin having children younger, while folks out here in the nation's capital tend to marry later, work on their careers, and begin having families at 30 or later. In our late twenties, we will be falling perfectly within our two social circles. It feels right for us to be waiting, even though there are loved ones that I'm sure would love for us to hurry up. I've done a lot of hurrying up - hurrying up to get my degree, then hurrying up to get another degree, then hurrying up to get engaged, then hurrying up to get married - and I really regret not enjoying those stages of my life more and focusing too much on the "what's next". I'm done hurrying up. I'm really relishing this time with my husband (and I hope he's relishing it with me, haha!) I don't want to let others' opinions or timelines dictate when we have children. That's just crazy to me! Becoming a parent is a huge responsibility, and I want to do it on our terms.

4) I have baby fever. Like, really bad. I also have baby fever for all the wrong reasons. I'm ready for the attention, the parties, the cute little baby with its cute little clothes and cute little toes. I'm ready to name our child (we have lots of ideas!) and raise them to be an independent, educated, forward-thinking, self-sufficient member of society. What I'm not ready for is all the very "real" parts of pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood - sacrificing my body for someone else, pushing a fully-formed human out of my vajay, weird things growing in weird places, bodily functions not working (or working too much!), the sleeplessness, the poopy diapers, breastfeeding, all of that. I sometimes think, "Oh, I can't wait," but I assure you, I can. At the end of the day, when I am being really honest with myself, I know I am really only ready for the superficial parts of the whole experience of becoming a parent. And that, to me, means I'm not really ready.

I know most parents that read this will say, "Having children is worth all that!" and I agree. It is totally worth all that. The point is, though, that we are waiting for "all that" until we are ready to take on this responsibility. We don't want to rush into it unprepared, or for the wrong reasons. Yes, I realize you can't ever be fully prepared. But, there are certain big-picture benchmarks we'd like to reach before we start talking about babies. That's all.

(Thanks to my girlfriends for encouraging me to write this post and speak my mind, even though it might be a slightly more controversial, personal subject than I am normally willing to write about. Love you.)

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Africa plans

As many of you know, my husband and I are going with his mom and brother to Africa for a family vacation for 10 days at the end of June. I really cannot express how psyched I am about this! We have several trips on our bucket list, and this was #1 on mine. I am so lucky to have married into a family that loves travel as much as I do, and is willing to take the time and resources to really experience the world.

Several people have asked me exactly what our plans are, and I thought a fun way to communicate that to folks would be to write a pre-trip blog post about our plans! My husband planned the entire trip, so kudos go to him on all of these awesome plans. He focused specifically on lodges that emphasized ecological conservation, for those of you that would be concerned about that type of thing - as we are.

First, Seth will travel to Indiana ahead of our scheduled departure date to drop off our dog with my mom, debrief her on her (extensive) needs, and drive up to Chicago for our flight out of the U.S. with his mom and brother. Then the fun begins!

Friday, June 26

I will fly out of DC in the evening and land in Chicago for my layover, where I will meet Seth, his mom and his brother.

We will all fly out that night from Chicago to Africa.

Saturday, June 27

We land in Munich, Germany at 1:00pm Munich time for an eight-hour layover. Seth insists that he is going to get on the subway and go to a beer garden and get drunk as a skunk, so I guess that's what him and his brother will be doing. I think my mother-in-law and I will probably do something else, like visit the site of the Night of Broken Glass. (My husband's family is Jewish.)

We fly out that evening to South Africa.

Sunday, June 28 - Monday, June 29

We land in South Africa in the morning, where we have a brief four-hour layover before flying out to the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge in Zimbabwe. We will land in Zimbabwe only a couple of hours later, where we will finally get to relax and get settled in at the lodge! The places Seth has chosen for us to stay look seriously incredible, and I can't wait to see it in person! This is literally the stuff my travel dreams are made of.

It is located in Zambezi National Park and has been voted the best safari lodge in Zimbabwe for 17 years. It has hourly shuttles to and from Victoria Falls and the nearby town center, as well as providing walking and ground safaris to guests (which is what we will probably be spending our two days doing). There is a watering hole on site, and several of the guest comments discuss spending time on their balcony watching elephants, lions and other animals.

Here are some photos from the Safari Lodge's website:




Monday, June 29 - Thursday, July 2

We will be shuttled to another lodge, the Victoria Falls River Lodge, in the morning. This is a smaller lodge, with only 13 rooms, and is located along the Zambezi River in the same park. The rooms are located on raised decks, and the lodge offers several really awesome activities that we hope to take part in. Specifically, I am hoping to do either the zip line over Victoria Falls, a canopy tour, river rafting or an elephant-back safari. These activities are also located across the border in Zambia, so we'd tick off another country in the process!

Here are some photos from the River Lodge's site:




Thursday, July 2 - Sunday, July 5

We leave the River Lodge on the 2nd and take a short flight to the Little Makalolo Camp in Hwange National Park. This lodge is the most intimate of the three, and only has six rooms, each sleeping two people. It is super-secluded, and does not have electricity (it has lights, all solar-powered battery-operated). It has some pretty awesome outdoor showers, and some of the reviews make it sound like a seriously incredible experience:

"I didn't know it was still possible to experience Africa like this! The camp itself is lovely, and the tents and accommodation are very comfortable and well equipped considering how remote this camp is. Eddie and his staff made us feel like family, and nothing was too much trouble. The food was superb - all prepared by chef Innocent and his team. The tents have no electricity in them, so the lighting is minimal and all battery operated but perfectly adequate. We had plenty of hot water from the solar heated water too. The camp has no fences around it, and the animals are free to come into the camp if they wish. We had elephant just metres from our tent on two occasions, and a spotted hyena right outside one night. Another guest had a leopard drinking water from the shower outside his tent at 4am. But if you are looking for the real african experience, this is hard to beat! the game drives were the best part. Our guide Godfrey was very knowledgeable and and experienced, and took us all over to see more than just the obvious animals. The bird life in Hwange is sensational - we identified 120 species over a 4 day period without even trying very hard. Our highlight was 9 lions on a fresh kudu kill, and we sat and watched them eating from just a few metres away. If you want to enjoy the real African bush this is a great place to go. There is no wifi and no cellular signal. They have a sat-phone for emergencies but other than that you are completely cut off from the modern world which is one of the best features in my view! If you are easily scared or don't want to get too close to the animals, then perhaps choose another camp."

Um....yes, please. They also have morning and evening safari walks and game drives, and "star beds" where you can sleep outside under the stars. I really can hardly contain my excitement. Eeeeeek!

Here are some photos from the Little Makalolo site:




July 5

Fly back to the States through the same route, and on to DC.

I'll definitely be making an individual blog post about each of these places, and uploading any photos we take to share with you guys! So psyched!









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2015 outdoor climbing session #1: Cooper's Rock

Yello, everybody.

I went to Cooper's Rock last weekend. I told myself at the beginning of the year I was going to get outside more, and I can see, in some ways, why I had such trouble getting out more last year! Working a full-time job prevents me from going outside during the week, and my weekends through April and into May are CRAZY BUSY. So I insisted I get outside last weekend and luckily the weather cooperated (it was perfect, actually).

This is a map of the bouldering areas at Cooper's Rock:


Every time I've ever gone, we end up spending a lot of time climbing in Upper Rock City (on the right) - and this time was no exception. The reasoning for that is sound, though, as there are a ton of really high-quality boulders of varying difficulties in a small area. The approaches are easy and short, and the fall zones - in general - are safe and easy to spot.  

For those of you that don't know, you use a printed guidebook to find boulders you want to climb - the guide book has maps, information about the approaches, the grades of certain climbs, descriptions of how to climb them, the 'quality' of the climb and sometimes photos of the boulders themselves. This is what part of the Cooper's guide looks like:


Bouldering outside is just what it sounds like. You do a brief hike (brief at Cooper's anyway) and you find really big rocks just chillin' out there in the woods, and you climb around on them. You take crash-pads with you, strapped to your back, and unfold them at the base of climbs to protect you from taking a ground fall. Climbers that have come before you (and contributed to the guide book) have mapped climbs for you on the boulder - you can usually see where the climbs are because there will be chalk in certain places on well-climbed boulders. Your guide book also tells you some general directions for how to climb a boulder problem outside, but one of the beauties of climbing outside is that your hands and feet can sort of go anywhere as long as you are following the general line of a climb.

Anyway. There's a boulder in Upper Rock City that is super popular called Ship's Prow, and that is where we always end up first. There are some good warm-ups around Ship's Prow, which is a super-sandbagged (graded way easier than it actually is) V5 that starts in a low-hanging cave. It turned into a giant party boulder this weekend, so we moved around a lot (and spread out since there were a bazillion of us).

We also worked George Washington's Nose, a classic V5 around the corner from Ship's Prow, that looks like this:


Stacy on George Washington's Nose, V5
And Tomb Raider, a V5-V7 in the same area, that looks like this:


^ Elan's first Cooper's V7, by the way (not Elan in the photo).

Aaron on Tomb Raider V7, Photo courtesy of Jesse Kinney
Several of us also went into an alcove off of Ship's Prow and worked on this really interesting slab boulder that has three pocket-heavy problems on it, off the beaten path enough that I had an impossible time tracking down the climbs in my guide book to write this post. This boulder is sandwiched in a little alleyway that allows enough room for safe spotting and falls, so it's nice and quiet and not as heavily trafficked as Ship's Prow and Tomb Raider, but still accessible. It has three problems on it, all options stemming from one another - the shortest being a V3, the next being a V4 with the addition of one really sketchy reachy move and a V6 with the addition of a long traverse (basically climbing sideways along the wall rather than vertically). (I will come back and update this if we figure out the name of this mystery boulder.)

This is me on the mystery V3-V4. Photo courtesyof Jeremy Kinney
I did get to work on another area at Cooper's on this trip, which was a nice change for me! We went over to the Picnic Table boulder, aptly named as it sits just off the road from a picnicking area. It was pretty awesome - just a wide open field with this huge boulder right in the middle of it. Primarily some high-intermediate to more advanced climbs, plus a classic V3 that we got to play with that was fun. This is what the Picnic Table boulder looks like:


Elan on Beta Monster, V5, on the Picnic Table boulder
Anyway. That's my weekend update! Since all my weekends through mid-May are booked SOLID, I may not get to climb outside again until the third weekend in May (sad panda). Gotta dedicate some serious time in May and this fall to getting outside more! Or, maybe going north? Is there legitimate climbing in Maine?? 

Luckily, my husband and I are planning a long weekend out west somewhere to do some hiking and -hopefully - climbing, maybe in Joshua Tree or Red Rocks. Wander lust forever.
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Excellence versus success in athletics

Athletics are an inherently competitive phenomenon (because duh). To me, though, there is a way to be competitive and also supportive of other athletes and their successes. To me, athletes in any sport that maintain a positive attitude and focus on improving their own personal bests end up being better all-around athletes than those that get a nasty attitude when they lose or are eclipsed by a new, younger athlete in their sport. We all know the type of athletes I'm talking about.

 A friend on Facebook recently posted this link, which I thought had a ton of really excellent points about this issue. It points out (rightly, I would argue) that as an athletic society we "make cuts and select all-star teams at younger and younger ages, making youth sports an elitist undertaking for early developers and those with the financial means to participate". It also says that we "teach and coach strategies that provide short-term results at the expense of long-term development". These are so absolutely true.

This is why we see such huge attrition between Group B (ages 13-14) and Group A (ages 15-16) in youth climbing circuits. B is a tough group. Some kids shoot up quickly and are essentially the size of full-grown adults by the time they're 14, while others lag behind and don't go through their growth spurts until they are much older. Many kids drop out of the sport at this age because competition is so stiff, and they start losing. Others, however, hang on because they know how the sport works, they love the sport more than they love winning and they keep a positive, constructive attitude toward loss. They take it as a learning experience and keep working on their own personal skill set and they don't focus on the fact that they lost at whatever level they lost at. And those are the climbers, later down the line, that succeed in the sport.

Obviously I am going to come at this from a climber's perspective. I am always hearing climbers (primarily young climbers) bemoaning the fact that they are having a bad climbing day, they can't send anything, and that they're frustrated over it. I call these "high gravity days", because in our sport sometimes you're just going to have a bad day. I try to refocus them on what they're working on - "But how did you climb yesterday? Do you love your project? Are you having fun? Do you love climbing?" and most of them will grin and say "Yeah. I love it." Because at the end of the day, particularly when you participate in a slow-growth sport such as climbing that requires a great deal of perseverance, that is what is most important.
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My brain on climbing

I was doing routes (I know, crazy right) with my friend Nicole the other day, and we were discussing what we love about the different aspects of the sport and how it affects us. I love getting into these philosophical/cerebral discussions with other climbers, because when you are so passionate about a "hobby" like this there is obviously something speaking to you on a much deeper level than "I really just like to pull myself around on a wall."

Climbing does something really therapeutic for me. It has really provided me with a vessel through which I can push myself, achieve and prove to myself that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. In the last year and a half I have really pushed the envelope on my own definition of fear, and have showed myself over and over that, even if something is scary, I can overcome that emotion and achieve at a higher level than I had previously achieved. There is something not only confidence-building, but character-building, about participating in a sport like climbing where you are constantly having to conquer your own mind in order to achieve more greatly. And I think that's pretty amazing.

It has also taught me a lot about focus on a singular action or singular moment, and how important that is. If I am near the top of a boulder problem and the move I am preparing for is difficult or potentially sketchy, I have two options: 1) Look down, check for my spotters and pads, consider my fall and think about and prepare for falling, then go for the move, or 2) focus, hone in on that move and execute it with precision. As most climbers know, hesitation often spells death when you are executing moves. I've learned a ton about my own weaknesses in terms of second-guessing myself and choosing to be cautious over bold, and climbing has helped to push me further into the "bold" spectrum and has killed my tendency to hesitate, be overly cautious, and second-guess.

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Kinney
I'm no routes climber, but each section of the sport has its own merits that I appreciate. I find climbing routes in particular to be really peaceful. Once you get a couple-dozen feet above the ground, it starts to get quieter - then you're just up there with your head, your gear, and the wall. This is particularly true when you're climbing outside, and you don't even have music playing to keep you company. It's almost like meditation for me. If I'm on an easier route it gives me time to think, and focus on breathing and my own movements. It's very cathartic and healing for me in a lot of ways.

You cannot let your own insecurities get in the way of achieving what you want. From a climbing perspective: If you love bouldering and excel at it, but find routes climbing scary and you can't send grades as comparably high as you do bouldering, do it anyway. The two parts of the sport complement one another beautifully - and I personally feel it is important to participate in both parts of the sport, even if it is informally. This is me - I, for example, only climb routes once a week. I find it scarier and not as fun as bouldering, and high-maintenance when it comes to gear and needing a partner. But, I do it anyway - it improves my endurance, it gives me new mental and physical challenges, and I refuse to be limited as an athlete. I don't want to have to pass on trips to incredible places like the Red because I can't lead climb or I can only lead 5.9 in the gym. So, I do routes to keep up my skills, but I focus on the portion of the sport I'm truly passionate about (bouldering), and I think that's okay.

If you are a routes climber, and that is what you love and you excel at it, but you find bouldering too difficult, too scary or it gets you down that you can't boulder V6+, do it anyway. I have climbed routes enough to know that bouldering is an essential skill, particularly once you get into the upper routes difficulty ranges. Those powerful, dynamic, and technical moves require you to have some skills traditionally found in bouldering. If you stink at boulders, so what. You're letting your own head get in the way of you participating in something. It's not like you have to do it all the time - focusing on your favorite aspect of the sport is fine. I just don't believe in getting in your head and letting it hold you back.


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