20 Things I Learned In My 20s: The Only Thing That Can Make You Happy Is You

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A relationship can contribute to your level of satisfaction, but it can’t make you happy.

A job can be fulfilling and exciting, but it can’t make you happy.

Food can be tasty and drinks can be delicious, but they can’t make you happy.

And things, wonderful things (electronics! clothes! decor!), they can give you a little rush of elation when you buy them and make your life more convenient, but they can’t make you happy.

Which doesn’t mean that I, and pretty much everyone everywhere, haven’t tried to rely on these things, and others, for happiness. If only I had this one thing, then I’ll be happy. A new boyfriend. A new outfit. A good meal. A new project. A new destination. But time passes and the relationship proves to be work to maintain. A seam busts or a laundry accident ruins that new lovely dress. The food is gone. The project is stressful. And when you get back from that trip, your problems are still right where you left them, waiting for you. So what, then? What can you do to make yourself happy?

What I’ve found over the past ten years as I’ve made all these mistakes and many, many more trying to find happiness is that there’s not one thing out there that’s going to make you happy. It’s easy to long for one magic bullet, one special something, that’s going to change everything. Like there’s a puzzle piece out there that’s going to change the whole picture once you put it into place. But what I’ve found is that there’s not. The only thing that can make you happy is you. Figuring out and cultivating what brings you enjoyment is key.

That’s not to say that if there’s a problem in one area of your life that it can’t drag everything else down with it. If you’re in a bad relationship, or a bad job, that can absolutely poison the well of your happiness and getting yourself out of the situation will help. But while subtraction of the negative from your life can make a difference, there’s not something you can magically add that’s going to fix the rest of it. If you’re not happy with yourself, another person, or job, or situation isn’t going to fix it. It might help temporarily, but it’s not going to solve the problem if the problem is unhappiness with yourself. So you need to look at yourself and ask what you like and what you don’t like, and work on the things you don’t like and develop the things you do. Learn to enjoy your own company, whether that means with a book or on the move or doing DIY projects. Once you’ve gotten to a place where you’re happy with yourself, relationships and jobs and things and experiences just add to the happiness you’ve already got, and you can take the ebbs and flows of life from a place of security and stability. Making your own happiness is the only way to really be happy at all.

Five For Friday: Favorite Love Songs

I’m a sap. I cry at sad movies, I can’t bring myself to throw out cards that anyone’s sent me, and I love love songs. I’m also feeling schmoopy because I’m getting ready to spend 13 days away from Drew, which is the longest time we’ll have ever been apart from each other since we started dating almost three years ago. Ugh, I’m even grossing myself out. Anyways, here are my five favorite love songs:

  • Nat King Cole, “Unforgettable”: I grew up on Nat King Cole, and he has so many touching love songs that it’s actually hard to pick just one from him. But at the end of the day, the sentiment of this one is my favorite: two people each think the other one is just the best.
  • Lamb, “Gorecki”: This was actually a song that I indirectly discovered through Sean in college…he liked the group, and when I started browsing through their stuff, I found this song and I’ve loved it ever since.
  • Elvis Presley, “Can’t Help Falling In Love”: Can’t leave the original king of blue-eyed soul out of a list of love songs, especially this track. I don’t even have anything to say about it, really, it stands on its own.
  • Ellie Goulding, “Your Song”: I actually first heard this song as the cover in Moulin Rouge, but this cover of Elton John’s original is sweet and soft, and there’s a reason she sang this at the royal wedding a few years back.
  • Bill Withers, “Lean On Me”: Technically, it’s not just a love song, it’s a song about friendship and even simple community. But isn’t this what a relationship should be about, at the end of the day? The romance and the gestures are lovely, but someone to lean on when you need to is what love’s really about.

I Stayed: Aria

So, like I said quite some time ago, we had the company retreat in Las Vegas this year. I’ve actually not spent a whole lot of time in Las Vegas even though I live in Nevada (which always surprises people, but it’s an 8 hour drive and I hate driving and planes cost money), so I’ve not really explored very many of the hotels on the Strip. I did know before we left, though, that Aria is supposed to be one of the nicer ones, so I was excited for our stay.

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And I’d heard right: Aria is a gorgeous hotel. The rooms are spacious (even the basic room is 520 square feet, which is almost the size of our entire old apartment) and clean, with the standard amenities you’d expect (TV, internet, etc) and there’s all kinds of neat little touches too, like touch-button control of the window shade/room lighting. That was really cool, honestly. I’m not even going to pretend to be above enjoying that.

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Outside of the room itself, the rest of the hotel was really great as well. I don’t gamble (not in like a never-ever kind of way, I just prefer my money in my bank account), so I can’t speak to the casino, and we didn’t get to the pool while we were there so I can’t talk about that either. But the food at the tapas bar was excellent (we stopped in one night after being out and ate so many things and all of them were delicious) and we had drinks at the Lobby Bar after our big dinner out, and the whole place is really just beautiful. There’s a Cirque show there as well (Zarkana), so you don’t even need to leave to have access to all kinds of good food, drinks, gaming, and a show!

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Aria is located on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada. I’d love to stay there again, but room rates start around $200/night (more on the weekends, obviously), and that’s before taxes and everything else. Maybe one of these days my budget will support that, but now is not one of these days. But, if you have the means, it’s probably my favorite place I’ve stayed on the Strip so far and I very much recommend it!

Things I Bought That I Love: Shock Absorber Women’s Ultimate-Run Sports Bra

I am a busty girl. Have been since…oh, 8th grade? Maybe 9th? After years and years of wearing ill-fitting bras because that’s what size the fitter at Victoria’s Secret told me I was, I finally found my actual size: 32G. Which sounds insane, but it’s actually not. I mean, it’s large, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t have humongous porn-star boobs, just big ones. I could get into a whole rant about how people think that D-cups are gigantic when they’re really not, but if you too have bosoms and want to make sure you’re wearing the right-size bra, please go here and figure out your for-real bra size. Don’t freak out if it’s way bigger than you thought. Buy the right size. Your boobs will thank you.

Anyways, the point of this is that one of the many reasons I was never a runner (until recently) is that when you’re super busty and still trying the old “two crappy Target sports bras at once” trick, running, like, hurts. I need a lot of support for high-impact activities. And this was my saving grace:

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This is the Shock Absorber Women’s Ultimate-Run Sports Bra. And this is what keeps my boobs in place when I’m out running, when I’m upside down at pole, basically any time I’m exercising. I did some research before buying it, and Shock Absorber was one of the best-reviewed brand for busty ladies. It comes in lots of different colors, but the black with silver is what I’ve bought both times, because I’m now on my second one. Don’t let the price tag freak you out. It probably seems like a lot to spend on a bra you won’t even be wearing very often. But exercise is probably the time you need to invest in quality the most, especially high-impact exercise, because there’s a lot of potential pain and damage there. Sizing is by band and cup size, like a normal bra, but it may vary from your normal size…for example, I wear a 34E and find that it fits me well. They are VERY snug (and need to be to properly support), but I’d recommend going up one band size and down one or two cup sizes for best fit. And if you have stiff shoulders, this might not be the bra for you: it not only has hook-and-eye closures, you also close higher up on the back of the bra and it can be tricky to reach. But it’s been a godsend for my comfort and enjoyment during exercise, so if your boobs are holding you back from getting out there, this (or something similar) is definitely worth the time and investment!

I Cooked: Sun Dried Tomato Pasta Salad

Yet another pasta recipe with sun-dried tomatoes? Yep! I know what I like and with the summer heat and no central air, food that requires relatively minimal hot oven or stovetop time is all I want lately. And this recipe looked yummy, so here we are.

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12 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and divided
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
Salt, to taste
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound to 1 pound pasta of your choice
1/2 pound cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 pound mozzarella cheese
Italian seasoning

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Add half the sun-dried tomatoes, all the vinegar, olive oil, garlic, 2 teaspoons salt, and pepper to a food processor, and process until almost smooth.

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package in a large pot of seasoned boiling water until al dente. Drain well, then toss with the dressing in a large mixing bowl. Meanwhile, mince the remaining sun-dried tomatoes.

Add the tomatoes, mozzarella, remaining sun-dried tomatoes, and Italian seasoning to the pasta. Toss to distribute evenly. Season to taste with salt.

Serve and enjoy!

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So I knew I wanted to make this as dinner, not a side, so I used a filled pasta: tortellini in my case, but ravioli or gnocchi would work fine here too. But if you want to make this as a side, the originally-called-for orrechiette would be perfect. I also omitted the capers and olives, because I couldn’t find the former and I hate the later. I took out the basil as well, because my supermarket is ALWAYS out of fresh basil and if I’m using dried, I might as well use Italian seasoning. Anyways, this was simple but tasty…Drew and I both went back for multiple servings…so many times, in fact, that there wasn’t really enough to make leftovers even though I got the family size tortellini! This came together pretty quickly and easily, so a great basic for when you need to get dinner on the table but aren’t feeling like fussing with anything fancy!

I Went: Great Western Marketplace

When I first started living in Northwest Reno, I used to do my weekend runs around an old abandoned K-Mart at the top of the street. I’ve been told it was empty for quite some time, which worked out great for me since it was a large, flat area where I could make a couple laps to get my distance in before heading back downhill to home. But then they put up fences around it and announced they were going to have a marketplace-style retail establishment open up in there. We watched (from the outside) as they refurbished and cleaned it up, with the opening date getting pushed back a few times until it opened last November. We gave The Great Western Marketplace some time to get up and running and then decided to go check it out.

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The concept is really neat: they took this enormous space and divided it into a bunch of little booths, giving vendors who might not be quite big or profitable enough to really have their own store a place to get out in front of the public and grow their base. The results, at least the last time I was in there (which was a few months ago now…I came back twice after my initial visit), were a little disappointing. The opening date was delayed, like I said, and it seems obvious why: they were trying to get more vendors in there so it didn’t look so empty. Which it did, honestly. The booths weren’t even close to being all filled and there’s an enormous open area in the middle of the store.

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I do think that the concept is great, and there are things that can be done to help…they do have a farmer’s market going on now that it’s summer time that will help draw people, and they’ve recently opened up a wine bar that I think could also be really neat (seen during construction below) and want to go visit. Which is another issue that is going to make it hard, though…they’re only open Friday-Sunday, opening at 10 (11 on Sundays) and closing at 5. That doesn’t really give them a chance to grab people on their way home from work, to get them in the door for a glass of wine or to swing through the farmer’s market or browse the stalls.

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The Great Western Marketplace is located at 4855 Summit Ridge Drive in Reno, NV, the northwest Reno area. There’s an enormous parking lot, so parking is never an issue. Prices are set by the vendors inside, so they vary…it’s a little bit of everything. Definitely worth stopping by to at least see if anything catches your eye!

A Pleasant Peninsula

Once a year, for a very long time now, my dad’s side of the family has gathered to spend a few days together in the place that he and his siblings were born and raised: Ontonagon. To save you the Wikipedia-ing, it’s a very small town in the western half of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, at the base of the Keewenaw, on the shores of Lake Superior. For those of you unfamiliar with the U.P. and its residents, the Yoopers, it is a very scenic area that holds less than 5% of the state’s population. More trees than people kind of thing. It’s north of the 45th parallel, so winter there is a Very Real Thing. But it’s stunningly lovely, especially in the summer, so that’s when the clan gathers.

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I’d last been Up North (a generic Michigander term for anywhere north of the Thumb area, up to and including the U.P. for the non-Michigan readers) in 2010, right after the bar exam. I mean literally right after, we left the next morning. It was a lovely reprieve from all the studying and stress and my cousins roundly mocked the light drawl that I sported for about six months after I left Alabama. I’ve been meaning to get back up there, but the next summer I was working, then I was on the campaign, then I’d just started my job, then I was working, and now, finally, I was able to make it. The original plan was for Drew and I both to go, but since he’d just started a new job of his own, he wasn’t able to make it this time.

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I flew in on Tuesday night to get in some quality Mom time, which was really nice. We ate dinner at home and got a chance to talk and spend a little time together. Wednesday morning, my dad picked me up and we headed north. It’s about 4 hours to the Mackinac Bridge (under construction, of course, #becauseMichigan), and then another 4 and a half to five hours across the U.P. We got in just in time to play some Big Bird, our family game that’s more or less like badminton, except with a tennis-ball sized birdie and using racquetball rackets. After that, we sat around in Grandpa’s garage and played euchre, a card game widespread in Michigan and Ohio (and a little bit in Wisconsin and Minnesota) and almost unknown elsewhere.

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Big Bird and euchre were daily activities for the rest of the weekend, as were trips to Lake Superior to cool off, because it was very warm (in the 80s pretty much every day and humid besides). On Thursday night, we went over to White Pine to have dinner at the Konteka, where there are usually black bears hanging around outside, to celebrate Grandpa’s 86th birthday. Other than that, no big outings, no set schedule. Just wake up in the morning, have some breakfast, and then spend time with your family. Sports, dinner, beach, cards in some order.

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But real life always beckons and everyone leaves Sunday to be back to work Monday. Unless you’re me and my dad, who decided to take the opportunity to avoid southbound traffic on a Sunday by stopping over in Marquette, about two hours from Ontonagon. My dad spent some time living there when he was younger and I’d never really been. We had big plans to hang out at the little shopping area downtown, except that apparently everything closes at 4(!!). We drove around a little after that and managed to run into a small art festival, where we bought some things, and then headed to Elizabeth’s Chophouse for dinner, where I managed to get a delicious vegetarian pasta and enjoy some amazing Wisconsin cheese.

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Monday we drove back down the rest of the way to Ann Arbor and I met my sister for an ice cream and we just hung out and caught up for a bit (we’re really looking forward to our family trip to Italy in September!). Tuesday I spent some time cleaning out the stuff that got shoved into my dad’s basement when I moved out to Reno at the last minute three years ago, and then met my mom for dinner at the Olive Garden. Wednesday I got on a plane and headed back to Reno and by Thursday it was real life again! I had a great time, though…I’m not especially close to any of my cousins, but I like them and I wish I got to see them more often. Seeing how different everyone was after five years really drove home how much time had passed. And I was glad I had at least a little bit of time to spend with my mom and sister, even though we’ll definitely get lots of quality time together soon…less than a month until our trip overseas!

I Cooked: Almond Cashew Tofu

Since I got back from vacation (recap up Monday!), I’ve been fighting with an extra few pounds. It’s nothing major, but I’ve crossed a self-appointed threshold number for “start actually paying attention to what I eat and stop just mindlessly shoving Triscuits in my face because I’m bored”. Whenever I get a little fluffier than I would like, I always start bumping up my exercise game if I’ve been slacking (guilty) and try to focus more on high protein meals that fill me up without racking up the calories. Drew doesn’t love tofu, so I try to find tofu recipes that actually have some flavor, and this recipe looked like a great way to do that!

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1 cup veggie broth
1/8 cup soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon minced ginger root
1 minced clove of garlic
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 T. corn starch dissolved in 2 T. water

1/2 onion, diced
1 cup green beans, cut (about an inch or so long)
1/4 cup chopped cashews, unsalted
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1 package extra firm tofu
flour for dusting tofu
oil for frying

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water or veggie broth

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Prepare quinoa according to package directions and set aside (add one cup quinoa to 2 cups water or broth, bring to boil, turn down to simmer and cover for 15-20 minutes, until liquid is gone)

To make the sauce, start with a little oil in a saucepan. Add the garlic and ginger just sautéing a little until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add the veggie broth, soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar. Heat until simmering. Add the corn starch, allowing the sauce to thicken. Remove from heat & set aside.

In a large saute pan or cast iron skillet, heat about 1/4 inch canola or veggie oil over med-high heat. While the oil warms up, open and drain liquid from the tofu package. Cut the tofu block into cubes, about 1×1 inch. Pour a little flour in a dish or pie plate. Gently roll the tofu in the flour and transfer to hot oil. Fry on all sides until slightly golden brown. Transfer to paper toweled plate and set aside. (or skip the frying if you prefer just plain silken tofu)

In a large pan, start with a little oil. Add the onions, allowing them to turn slightly translucent and fragrant, 3-4 minutes. Add the green beans and the prepared sauce. Saute together for about 8-10 minutes. Before removing from heat, add in the fried tofu and nuts and toss together or another 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat & toss with quinoa. Serve and enjoy!

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Combining the quinoa with the tofu meant extra filling-ness, so this definitely hit the spot of less food in before full (it’s a little heavy on oil for me to claim that it’s healthy). I omitted the pepper in the original recipe because I forgot it and didn’t feel like going back to the store, but I don’t know that I think this felt like it was missing anything. Also, when I made it, I had WAY too much sauce and ended up pouring out about 3/4 of what was in my saucepan, so I’ve halved the amounts above. And this is definitely a high-focus recipe: between the quinoa, frying the tofu, making the sauce, and prepping the final product, I was (as you can see above) using all four of my burners. Although the prep work in terms of chopping and such was minimal, it still took over an hour from start to finish to get on the table. It’s definitely tasty, and both Drew and I enjoyed it, but best for an evening when you have some time to spend and energy to focus on it.

I Ate: Heritage

A lot of people outside Nevada seem to think Reno is kind of a low-rent Las Vegas. And to some extent, there’s truth in that: until the recession (which hastened a movement already in action from things like more widespread tribal casinos), gaming was the major economic driver of the area. While it’s still an important industry for Northern Nevada, it no longer dominates like it does in Las Vegas. To that end, the downtown area has recently seen a new, non-gaming hotel go up: Whitney Peak. Where this matters is that Heritage is the house restaurant inside the Whitney Peak, and we’d been hearing great things about it, so we went with Drew’s parents to check it out.

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We had reservations and were seated quickly. It was a Friday night, so it was a busy one, and our waitress was new. She was very sweet and tried really hard, but was a little slow. We weren’t in a hurry, though, so it wasn’t an issue. Since the place was full, there was kind of a constant hum, but it didn’t create a problem in having a conversation or anything like that. Tables were maybe a little tight together for maximum comfort. Decor is an upscale-rustic type theme, and the place feels very cozy.

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Like many other area restaurants are making a move toward doing, they locally source a lot of their ingredients. I ordered the Mac and Cheese (out of a vegetarian menu section that actually had quite a lot of variety) because I was feeling hungry and who can resist Mac and Cheese with a potato chip crust? Not me, and not anyone I want to know either. And, as you’d probably expect from that description, it was delicious. And very filling, I couldn’t finish all of it but I gave it a good effort. Everyone else had only good things to say about their meal as well.

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Heritage Restaurant is located at 255 N. Virginia Street in Reno, NV, inside the Whitney Peak Hotel. This is definitely the downtown area of Reno, and parking is what you’d expect: street, some casino garages, and according to the website, apparently there is complementary valet. Prices are actually very reasonable (not cheap, but reasonable). I really loved this place and want to go back soon!

Birchbox: July 2015

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So Birchbox has that sample choice feature, right? Along with that, there’s usually a featured box you can chose: you know what all the samples are, and they’re either curated by a guest editor or organized around a particular theme. I’ve been shying away from them because since I’ve been a Birchbox member for SO LONG, there’s always at least one and almost always two of the samples that I’ve already gotten. But this month’s Beachy and Bright Box had totally new to me samples, so I went for it! And it turns out, when I have more of a say about what ends up in my Birchbox, I like it a lot more.

stila look at me liquid lipstick: This stuff? Definitely smudge proof? How do I know? I got this in the bright pink color, Bella, put it on, and it was immediately obvious that it’s not really my color (it’s like BRIGHT pink). So I decide to take it off…easier said than done. It took quite a bit of work, and my mouth still wasn’t quite the right color for a little while. So if you’re looking for a lipstick that’s not going to come off on your drinking glass, look no further. I liked it (long-lasting and matte are things I generally look for), but the color wasn’t for me.

Supergoop! Anti-Aging City Sunscreen Serum SPF 30: So, I thought I hadn’t gotten this stuff before, but looking back at my history, I totally have. No matter, though, because I turns out I love it! I was going to layer it under my moisturizer, but it’s moisturizing on its own, and it doesn’t irritate my skin or turn my t-zone into an oil slick (any more than it usually is, anyways), so this is actually becoming my new everyday moisturizer!

Oribe Apres Beach Wave and Shine Spray: My hair is actually naturally wavy, but it’s so fine that the waves blow out very easily. On the weekends, though, I prefer to let it air-dry to avoid heat damage. What that means is that my hair is usually kind of frizzy, and sometimes my waves are a little limp. I was pleasantly surprised at how well this spray worked: not to actually hold my waves, because that’s practically impossible once I get a brush through them, but in terms of smoothing out flyaways and making my hair look shiny but not greasy. Definitely putting this on the list to pick up as well.

JUARA Radiance Enzyme Scrub: I’m always down to try a new skin treatment, and while I liked this, it wasn’t anything I feel a desperate need for. My skin felt very clean after I used it, but not necessarily brighter, and my pores didn’t seem to be minimized at all. It’s harsh enough that you’re not supposed to use it more than once or twice a week, but not so harsh that I had any sort of reaction to it. Good but not special.

theBalm cosmetics Balm Desert Bronzer/Blush: I always get products from theBalm, admire their adorable packaging, and then never wear them. It’s not that they’re not good quality, I think it’s just that I get products and colors that aren’t right for me. Same with this bronzer…I don’t do contouring or wear bronzer, so this isn’t for me. Biggest dud of the box (for me personally because of my beauty habits).