Agates.

I can't tell you how many hours I've spent combing the Lake Superior shoreline through piles of smooth, tumbled stones. We were in search of small treasures -- fairy tears, colorful little buttons, mottled pieces of metal, beautiful bits of old ceramic. But the ultimate prize were agates: lovely little gems whose whispery white bands would peek through heaps of basalt and rhyolite. 
When it comes to finding agates, timing is everything. Ideally, always after a storm when the lake reveals its most precious stones. Agates are always difficult to come by but its a thrill when you're able to spot their luminescent stripes. It's like finding North Country gold.

Today was possibly my last opportunity of the year to search for agates. Something about dipping my toes in the clear, icy lake and running my fingers through heaps of smooth pebbles is cathartic. It's an opportunity for me to separate myself from my thoughts and feelings and focus on the simple task at hand. I guess you could say that for me it's like a form of meditation.
Meditation comes in all different forms. Mindful meditation involves paying precise attention to the details of our present experience -- to notice what you are noticing as you are noticing it. When I'm hunting for agates,  it involves focusing on the sensations from that very moment: sifting my fingers through pebbles, listening to the sound of waves gently tumbling little stones, keeping a keen eye for the agate's orthodox pattern amongst otherwise plain rocks.
I've found that meditation has been incredibly helpful for my overall well-being in so many different ways. I stress less over little things, especially when it comes to my work where focus is everything and tensions are high.

It helps build a real, solid happiness within me that I have never felt before. You know that overwhelming feeling you get after receiving incredible news, or seeing a really old friend after a long time, or when you're falling in love? It's like that, only the crazy thing is nothing is happening. I just feel pure, unsolicited happiness for no reason. The older I get the more I realize that I really only feel happiness when good things are about to happen or have just happened. I think it's important to feel happiness always -- even in the least positive of times.

But perhaps the most important benefit that I have noticed with mindful meditation is the fact that it aids in developing a stronger sense of self. When I am outside in nature (especially alone), I connect to an aspect of life that is so raw and refreshing. By sense of self, I mean a powerful inner strength that resounds from somewhere deep within me. It is the ability to know who you are exactly, what your boundaries are, having emotional independence, and finding confidence in yourself.

Nosce Te Ipsum.

Being Defined
Often times, we feel compelled to put labels on ourselves, on other people, or on situations. I think this is how we attempt to make sense of life -- categorizing things is human nature.

One should not just tolerate insults and harsh words, but also forgive with a peaceful mind.
- Radhanath Swami

I have learned that perhaps one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself is to learn how to deal with negativity and criticism calmly and with grace.

When we have a weak sense of self (you could find my post here on what I feel defines having a strong sense of self), we let ourselves be defined by others and let their projections of us ruin are lives. We let them write our destiny, to tell us how we are, and to tell us who we are. They may be right, but most of the time they are not.

Most of the time we let ourselves be defined by people who have no idea who they even are to begin with. The individuals who realize who they are would not be defining others. They would be able to see the utter pointlessness and ridiculousness of it.

We have to ask ourselves: is this how I wish to be seen? A bundle of other people's opinions? 
Your sense of self confidence should not come from what other people think of you. You should not seek self validation from others. Your sense of self should come from your own inner workings and how you live your life with integrity and love for all. 

I feel that our life's work is to learn how to be a joyful human being. In that, we must learn how to feel comfortable and natural with everyone. It doesn't matter if they feel it or not -- that's their problem and you cannot control that. But at the very least, you should be at ease, and that's all that matters.

I'd like to leave you with this final thought: 
Whatever labels you put on yourself will limit you.
Whatever labels you use for anyone or anything will become your prison.

Defining Yourself.
"To thine own self be true."
-William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Defining myself, as opposed to being defined by others, is one of the most difficult challenges that I face.

As I grow older, I find that in trying to figure out who you are, it can be difficult to hear our own voice -- the beat of our own drum. Our parents shape and mold us to a degree; our peers do the same. Most of us are raised to please others, to be considerate, to be polite, to practice self-restraint. 

Defining yourself puts restrictions on you because it makes you feel as if you always need to live a certain way to maintain these definitions and expectations. If you don't, you fail.
But we are not meant to live a life where we are expected to behave a certain way. 

Whatever definitions you put on yourself can be broken down by our peers in the blink of an eye. For instance, if you announce proudly that you are a “nice person," life will constantly put you to the test. One day you may act in a way that is perceived as “not nice” by someone. Your reputation is ruined in an instant. A new label has been attached to your name: “cruel.”
This will hurt you because you so meticulously picked out “nice’ to be defined by, and now someone thinks you are the complete opposite. 

I think that our true power and wisdom lies in not only being able to define ourselves, but in knowing who we are. 
Knowing yourself means that you are not just one thing -- you are a thousand different possibilities. You are able to recognize the fact that it is ridiculous trying to identify yourself deeply with just one of these possibilities.
Knowing yourself also means knowing your limitations -- to be able to acknowledge what you are, and what you are not. 

Only when we know who we are, we will know how we need to be in this world -- what our purpose is here. Only when we know who we are, we will know others. We will have real relationships. We will be real.

"All I can do is be me, whoever that is."
-Bob Dylan.

Christmas Wishlist.

When it comes to Christmas, I'll usually ask for things that are practical and that I know I'll use often. This year, my wishlist includes (starting in the upper left hand corner and going clockwise):

Duluth Pack is a local company based out of my beautiful little hometown, Duluth. Their bags are gorgeous and made by hand right here in Minnesota. I have a backpack and a duffle made by Duluth Pack, but I definitely wouldn't mind having a pack specifically for camping trips or canoeing excursions. The Wanderer pack is spacious, sturdy, and has a beautiful, simple design. I've had my eye on it for a long time. 

The Snooty Fox is a cute little tea shop also based out of Duluth. They have over 100 varieties of tea -- from loose leaf to kombucha to chai. They even have their own house blends and offer kombucha-making classes to perfect your art (which I also wouldn't mind receiving as a gift!)

Perfect for my morning tea or for when I'm traveling -- the Minnesota mug will always remind me of the place that I love most. 

With my new Nikon I need a new camera strap. I've been eyeing this particular one for a while now -- the inside is made from leather and the outside is made from a beautiful Indian blanket pattern. 

Every Minnesotan knows to always dress in layers. I love Patagonia for their warm, well-made clothing that's cute and can easily be layered.

I'm a huge Bob Dylan fan and I listen to a lot of vinyl. The Mono Vinyl Box set is probably the most unlikely gift on my wishlist (it's $200!), but a girl can dream. He's even from my home town -- the beautiful Duluth, Minnesota.

I need a good, sturdy pair of hiking boots -- something that is waterproof, has soles with a good grip, and will cover my ankles to give me extra support. Timberland is notorious for crafting beautiful footwear, and their 6-inch leather boot is everything I look for in a good pair of hiking boots.

I'd love to know what you've had your eye on for Christmas!

Tchotchkes (#2.)

Tchotchke (n.) choch-KEE: a small bauble or miscellaneous item.

My most recent thrift excursion has been very lucky. Every year my local Goodwill has its annual vintage sale where they pull out the most unique and unusual items from their mysterious back room. The Vintage Sale is for me what Black Friday is to everyone else. I sit outside of Goodwill well before the doors open (because believe it or not there's usually a huge line to get in) to make sure that I get first dibs on some of the best junk.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to find many things that really caught my eye this year, but I was still able to leave with a few beautiful things.
Every once in a while on my hunts I'll strike gold. I was able to find this gorgeous, vintage dress made from 100% Indian silk, which I still can't believe that I was able to snag for $5.99. Although the dress itself is very thin (as silk tends to be), I think it'll be perfect for the summer time. For a size medium it's still huge, but I'm sure it's nothing that a tailor can't fix. For now, wearing a leather belt around the middle will suffice.
This lovely little deer. He's found a comfortable home on my bookshelf, right next to Candide by Voltaire. I still haven't named him yet. Any suggestions?
A pretty blue tin.
I have a thing for finding/collecting vintage tins. Usually I end up keeping tea or other small things inside of them. I think it's a unique way of storing small things -- I have them all over my apartment.
A brass Chinese cricket jar. In Chinese culture, crickets are a symbol of good luck. Cricket jars were often made from different materials -- porcelain, clay, or woven bamboo. It's not very often that you'll find one made from brass. Although I don't plan on keeping crickets as a pet any time soon, I thought the jar was a perfect additional to my collection of brass tchotchkes. I'm sure I can use it for something else, like burning incense cones.
A Victorian/Victorian-style necklace. I have no idea as to whether or not this is actually valuable or if it's merely costume jewelry. The necklace itself is made from brass. Although I'm not 100% certain, the center stone looks like it could be malachite. Either way, it's still a gorgeous piece  -- even more so in person.
The Jamestown Princess: Pocahontas Legends (1907) by Anna Cunningham Cole and M. Louise Smith.
This book was another incredibly lucky find -- especially since it's an original print copy that was published in 1907. That makes this little book 108 years old, and it's almost entirely in perfect condition. It's beautiful to flip through, as it includes illustrations that detail the legend of Pocahontas in epic verse form. I can't believe that I was able to snag this for $3.

You can find my post detailing my previous thrifting adventure below:

Dhammapada.

A giant snow-sculpture of Buddha that I was able to capture at the Ely Winter Festival.

Although I don't exactly affiliate myself with any one religion, I like to pull ideas and inspiration from many different belief systems and incorporate them into my own way of living.
Lately I've been reading and drawing inspiration from the Dhammapada, which is one of the most significant texts found in Buddhism. It is a collection of sayings from Buddha, which have been culled from various discourses of his teachings in the course of 45 years and is written in verse form. I take comfort in the Dhammapada for its accessibility, relative thoroughness, and poetic wisdom. 
For a bit of Monday morning inspiration I thought I would include a few of my favorite bits from Dhammapada. I hope they bring you as much thought and inspiration as they have brought me.

Better than a thousand hollow words,
 is one word that brings peace.


Overcome the angry by friendliness,
overcome the wicked by goodness, 
overcome the miser by generosity,
overcome the liar by truth.


To overcome one's own self 
is indeed better than to conquer others.


No one saves us but ourselves.
No one can and no one may.
We ourselves must walk the path.



Do not dwell in past 
Do not dream in the future
Concentrate the mind in the present moment.


Like a beautiful flower full of color but without fragrance,
Even so, fruitless are the fair words of one who does not practice them.


Live in joy,
In love,
Even among those who hate.



Do not follow the ideas of others,
But learn to listen to the voice within yourself.



Focus,
no on the rudeness of others,
not on what they've done
or left undone, 
but on what you have
and haven't done 
yourself. 


Learn to love without condition.
Speak without bad intention.
Give without any reason.
And most of all,
care for people without any expectation.

Gratitude.

"If the only prayer you say in your life is 'thank you,' that will suffice."
-Meister Eckhart

Thanksgiving is the one day out of the entire year that is designated for giving our thanks and counting our blessings -- even if our gratitude is half-hearted at best. Each year around this time I always ask myself the same things: Why do I need a holiday shrouded in gluttony to give thanks and to be grateful for everything I have? Shouldn't giving thanks be something that we do every single day? Shouldn't I be grateful for not only the bigger things in my life, but also the smaller, every day ones?

I believe that having a grateful heart attracts abundance and miracles. The more often you give thanks, the happier you are.

Having gratitude is perhaps the most important virtue of all. It allows us to become in tune with the source of everything good that comes into our lives. But what does it even mean to be grateful? To me, gratitude is an affirmation that there is goodness in the world, and that the source of it is beyond ourselves. We acknowledge that other people or higher powers (if you are of a spiritual mindset) give us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve goodness in our lives. Being grateful also means living your life as if everything is a miracle and to be aware on a continuous basis of what you've been given. Gratitude shifts your focus from what your life is lacking to the abundance that is already present.

We tend to take for granted the good that is already present within our lives. It is important to notice and appreciate each day's gifts -- to find the joy in smaller things instead of celebrating only our big achievements. Often times, I like to use gratitude to to help me put things in proper perspective. When things don't go as I had planned, I try to remember that every difficulty carries within it the seeds of an equal or greater benefit. In the face of adversity I'll ask myself, "What can I learn from this?", or "How can I benefit from this?"  

Having a grateful heart allows us to approach life with humility and grace. By acknowledging the smaller, every day things we become aware of just how much we really have. If we can't be appreciative for what we already have it's as if we're declaring that we deserve more. By practicing gratitude each and every day (and not just one day out of 365) we can transform our entire perspective, and with it our entire lives.

NARS: Gipsy.

You know that feeling when you find the perfect lipstick? One that just seems to flatter you so well that you vow to wear it every single day? 
I think I've found it.
Gipsy by NARS is described as a "sheer warm berry" shade, however I would say that it looks like more of a warm, earthy, brick-colored red. Either way, the warm undertones are perfect for me because I have very olive skin, and usually it's difficult for me to find a shade of red that's flattering and isn't a true shade of red.
The texture is sheer, so if you're looking for color that doesn't exactly "pop" you can wear this without lip liner. The only downfall to this is that the lipstick itself doesn't have very good staying power. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the sheer consistency so I'll throw a red lip-liner underneath ("Cherry" by MAC seems to do just fine.) 
I usually struggle with lipsticks as I have a very small, curvy mouth. However the consistency of this lipstick is creamy so it applies beautifully -- I don't think I've ever applied a lipstick that was so easy for me to hit every little curve of my lips. 
The entire line of NARS lipsticks come in 32 shades and are infused with vitamin E to keep lips moisturized and the lipstick's color locked into place. Each shade imparts a semi-matte finish so that lips are looking velvety and full-bodied with a sheer finish.

Have any of you tried Gipsy? Or rather any lipstick by NARS?

DIY: Turmeric Mask.

If there's one thing I love, it's always a good DIY face mask.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time experimenting with different things in our kitchen (much to my mother's dismay.) Our counter tops would be strewn with eggs whites, spices, pulped fruits and vegetables -- anything that I thought would potentially give me gorgeous skin.
There was a lot of trial and error. Some things gave excellent results while others seemed to be a waste of time and resources. But that was always the fun of it -- finding the perfect combination of kitchen ingredients that would be the holy grail to all of my skin ailments.

One mask that has never failed me has been a combination of turmeric and aspirin. It seems to include properties that encompass everything that I look for in a good skin care product: brightening, exfoliating, moisturizing, and acne-fighting.
Here's a quick breakdown of the ingredients:

Aspirin (uncoated), 6 tablets
The effective ingredient in aspirin is chemically similar to salicylic acid, which is a very common exfoliant. The grainy texture of ground aspirin is an exfoliant in itself as well.
In a small bowl, cover aspirin tablets with a few drops (3-6) of warm water. Ideally, you want to make some sort of an aspirin paste that isn't runny.

Honey, 1/2 teaspoon
Honey is a natural humectant, and is therefore excellent for locking in moisture and soothing skin. Enzymes found within honey also clarify pores, keeping them clean and clear.

Yogurt (plain, full-fat), 1 teaspoon
Yogurt is full of lactic acids, which dissolves dead skin cells and leaves your skin all lovely and soft.

Turmeric, 1 teaspoon
India's most commonly used spice has also been used as a part of their skincare for centuries. One of the most important Indian wedding rituals is the "haldi" ceremony, where a paste made of milk, sandalwood, or rose water (the exact mixture depends on the individual's cultural and family customs) is mixed with turmeric and applied everywhere.
Not only is the spice exfoliating, it also dries acne, fades dark spots, and deep cleanses pore as well.
I've found that you can play around with the ingredients more or less. Personally, I like to be a little heavy-handed with the turmeric because it leaves my skin glowing afterwards. Leave it on for 20-60 minutes, and ideally wash it off over your kitchen sink, as turmeric tends to stain.

Gökotta.

Gokotta (noun): The Swedish word for rising early in the morning to hear the birds sing or to appreciate nature.


Mornings are the most beautiful part of my day. They are always peaceful, silent, and calm. This morning I woke up before dawn to watch a gorgeous Lake Superior sunrise. It was only 17 degrees at 7:16am by the lake, but I was able to embrace the cold as a reminder that I am alive, happy, and healthy.
I very much used to be a night owl -- staying awake until 2am and waking up the next day at 11am or noon. I feel like this was an unhealthy habit for my body for several reasons: I wasn't able to make the most out of my day, I was usually more tired throughout the afternoon, I would put off side projects or was never able to get things done, and I always felt as if I was in a rush.
I've found that waking up early has its benefits. Here are just a few:
1. Greet the day.
Once I'm up, I am able to recite my intentions for that day. Intentions are small promises that you make to yourself -- like small goals. My intentions are inspired by the Dalai Lama: ”Every day, think as you wake up, ‘today I am fortunate to have woken up, I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can.'"

2. Amazing start.
I used to have the terrible habit of hitting my snooze button several times before rolling out of bed. I'd be running late, be frustrated that I was running so behind schedule, and come into work barely awake and cranky. 
Now that I wake up a little extra early, I am able to get so much more done before I head to work. I come in on time fully awake and in a happy mood that lasts the entire day.

3. Quiet. 
Self explanatory. Mornings are the calm before the storm (i.e., my usually very hectic workdays.) 

4. Breakfast.
The most important meal of the day. If you take the time to prepare something that is filling, your body feels sated until lunchtime and you are less likely to reach for foods that are unhealthy.

6. Exercise. 
When I wake up, I feel a burst on energy that lasts for 2 or 3 hours, which I try to utilize. I find that this is the best time for me to exercise. I usually like doing yoga, or when it's warmer outside I prefer running. 

Aware.

A few snapshots from this past fall. All photos are taken by me, from my Instagram -- @MinnesotaN1ce

It has finally happened: the year's first snowfall. I'm embracing the cold with extreme reluctance, as my corner of the world has had such a gorgeous extended fall that I didn't want to let go of. This year the colors were shockingly vibrant and our weather was unseasonably warm. I consider myself very lucky to have been able to make the most out of my favorite season, even if its beauty is fleeting -- but as Robert Frost once wrote: "Nothing gold can stay."

I find that often times the most beautiful things in life are never permanent -- sunsets, the last burst of summer, a dalliance, dreams, or life itself. They pass us by and are bittersweet, and remain as nothing more than a brief, faded memory in the back of our conscious.
The Japanese have the perfect word for such a feeling: aware (ah-war-ay): the awareness of impermanence -- the idea that we are aware that the present moment we are living in is transient. But maybe that's what makes brief moments like autumn so beautiful -- the fact that they are only momentary, and that we should relish every second for what it is.