Fall Leaves and Boots

My Mindful Exercise: 30 Days of Thanksgiving

lifestyle

Around 4 years ago I was spending too much time working and not enough time taking care of myself. Weeks of antibiotics took a toll on my physical, mental and interpersonal well-being – not to mention I was non stop working and taking pride in my inability to remember meals or get adequate sleep. It was a toxic form of Stockholm Syndrome where I was growing to love the alienated, unwell version of myself because I associated being exhausted to being important. This was my sophomore year of college, an extremely formative year not just in spite of but because of some of those hard times. This tradition grew out of something unpleasant and that’s always my hope whenever November comes along.

So this is 30 Days of Thanksgiving, a 30 day mindfulness exercise that not only changes my mindset but also prepares me for the holiday carnage. After Halloween ends folks jump straight to Christmas and sentences brim with “I want” statements. “I want a boyfriend,” “I want some new boots,” those kind of “I want” statements that seem greedy and sometimes unrealistic. It really changes the season of giving into a season of taking.

Honestly, slow down. Christmas will come like it does every year. It’s draining, and I’m sure I’m not the only one anxiety-ridden and stressed. What we miss by rushing through November is an opportunity to take care of ourselves and appreciate the little, every day things we take for granted. This is especially necessary before the draining, hectic holiday season. I mean, is anyone ready for heavy traffic and throwing elbows at the mall? I’m not.

How does it work?

This could very well be a journal activity, but I prefer to do this on Instagram as a way to bring realism and positivity into the social media realm, something lacking in a lot of hyper-produced, inauthentic content that circulates among the many genuine accounts. Every day, no matter how down I feel, I think of one thing I’m thankful for. It could be anything: people, places, things. You know the drill.

Now despite hard days that inevitably arise when it gets dark at 5pm, you have to keep going. Last year I remember getting a flat tire on my way to meet someone for dinner. It was a perfect situation: no tire iron, no car jack, no roadside assistance. Thankfully, the person I was meeting for dinner drove the extra hour to meet me. We called a local roadside service to change my tire, and after a few hours and about a hundred dollars we were en route to finally get some food. The CBD cocktail I drank with dinner made me ugly cry in the shower a few hours later, but despite all that (plus the next day’s waiting for new tires) I still could find something to be thankful for.

Personally, I find that putting this out on social media almost manifests a positive attitude. There’s something about writing it down and getting input from friends and followers that feels comforting, like we’re all living through November together. However, there are other variations depending on what you can manage. I mentioned bringing this exercise analog in a journal, but you can also verbally express thanks. Tell the people around you when you feel thankful for their presence. Tell your favorite barista that despite your long commute, you’re thankful for mornings because their drinks bring you comfort. Hell, tell the pizza guy that you’re thankful for that stuffed crust. Whatever you choose please don’t forget the reason for the activity. Keep your gratitude front and center even when you’re not posting about it on social media or writing it down in your journal.

Beaded Woven Purse

Thrifting Threes: Clothing I Look For

Vintage

I love thrift stores: the pre-loved clothing crowded on racks rich with past lives and probably dust, mismatched flatware and commemorative beer mugs so you can fondly recall the Stella you drank in Florida last winter, and the smell, a combination of attic-ridden Christmas decorations and your grandma’s closet (the one with the Danish cookie tin full of sewing supplies). Thrifting and buying second hand is on the rise as vintage styles undergo a renaissance and sustainability becomes essential to young people. I know I can’t resist a trip to the nearest thrift store. It’s an adventure that exercises creativity and allows anyone to push the bounds of personal style and expression. I personally go into thrift stores with no expectation so as to keep an open mind. What do I buy? When it comes to clothing, I typically shop within three main categories.

Basics

Your closet needs a solid foundation of neutral and practical articles that you can seamlessly accessorize and pair with just about anything. Here is not the time to harp on designer names. Second hand basics can come from anywhere, but it is nice to find higher quality pieces that will last longer. Beige, brown, black, white and grey items as well as denim are valuable finds at any thrift store. Also, staples that you have difficulty finding in your size at other retail shops. I’m 5ft tall (5ft short, rather) and can never find maxi skirts and dresses that don’t drag on the floor. With the range of styles, sizes and decades represented at most thrift stores, it’s easy to find size and shape outliers. It may take digging, but it’s worth it.

Quirky Statement Pieces

Thrift stores are treasures troves for weird and unusual clothing. Of my statement pieces, silly embroidered chambray shirts are my favorites. This is the time to bring retro patterns and colors into your wardrobe. It’s also the perfect place to find ugly sweaters and comical t shirts previously worn by cool dads and 80’s nerds alike. These pieces bring out your personality, and offer an inexpensive way to push your own wardrobe’s boundaries and have some fun. This is an opportunity to go wild in the accessory section and find the beaded bag or dad hat of your dreams. It’s an opportunity to look through all sections of the store, men’s, women’s, pajamas, to find the piece that suits you. It’s these pieces that rightfully garner the most attention from friends and colleagues, even if sometimes that attention is in the form of “what is that?”

Designer Labels and Luxury Pieces

Here is when the label matters. If you’re reading this, you definitely don’t get paid enough to drop cash on luxury brands or premium fabrics. Smaller local thrift stores or consignment shops typically offer a more curated selection, but sometimes increase the price knowing the value of what they’re carrying. No matter, it will still be less expensive and more eco-friendly than buying something brand new. I’ve been fortunate enough to find cashmere turtleneck sweaters and a brand new (tags! still! on!) Michael Kors pencil skirt for less than $10. My boyfriend scored with a full Brooks Brothers Golden Fleece navy blue suit (retailed at a few thousand dollars) for less than $15. Here is where you maybe want to also consider shelling out extra money for alterations if the piece is valuable and right.

Alternatives

Now I’m aware that not everyone can shop for new items at environmentally friendly, ethically made clothing stores. Some people may not even be able to shop at higher end consignment shops depending on tier, or even thrift stores due to travel. This doesn’t mean you can’t still wear sustainable clothes AND be fashionable. Swapping clothes with friends and family is an environmentally friendly and FREE way to refresh your wardrobe, especially when it comes to formal wear and highly seasonal or specific pieces. Cull your closet and invite friends to do the same. Dump your clothes out and swap.

Mexico City Pyramids

Five Days in Mexico City

Travel

I’m so so so sorry it’s been so long. If you follow me on Instagram (which, duh, you should) you’d know that I left my last job and have been in non stop motion since updating you last. You’d also know that I took a break from commuting and moving to go to Mexico City with my family. While the vacation was anything but relaxing, it was everything about culture. It’s undoubtedly true that Mexico’s history is part of America’s history, but we as Americans fail to learn about much other than European conquest. This trip illuminated so much about the country, like the hundreds of languages still actively spoken throughout, the many other civilizations besides the Aztecs and Mayans and the incredibly vibrant food.

After landing in the mid-afternoon on Saturday we all made a b-line for El Huequito for towers of al pastor tacos and stoneware of molten cheese and chorizo. The al pastor, being sliced from  a shawarma-esque inverted cone of pork, starred in this culinary experience, but the limes and platter of sauces were being passed around the table as we all could not decide which was the top. Naturally, we came back two days later for more sauce. Saturday was mostly a day of walking and eating. Street corn and churros made appearances on the day’s itinerary, and I’m happy to report that both changed me in different ways. The street corn just handed me an essay on why chili and lime belongs on everything (see: chili and lime on mangos) and the churros kicked any other doughnut or fried dough treat to the curb and became number one in my heart.

We knocked out that night because Sunday would be longer. We began the day at Panederia Rosetta and I’m different. The best croissant I’ve ever had made into a bowl to cradle guava jam accompanied by a cappuccino fueled our first stop: the palacio de bella artes. This art and architecture museum had Diego Rivera murals and a special exhibit on Francisco Icaza, but the physical building, completed in the 1930’s, was the masterpiece full of art deco-style interiors and multiple domes with sunset-colored roofs. In the city center (the Zocalo) a marriage of antiquity, tradition and modernity gathered between the Templo Mayor, the unearthed ruins of a civilization, the cathedral and street vendors fleeing whenever a cop entered the area. In the beating sun we ate tamales and coconut agua fresca amid street rituals and incense burning in the summertime chaos around us, a typical Sunday in Mexico.

In the evening we returned to the palacio de bellas artes for the ballet folklorico, but not before a margarita. At Miralto, at the tippy top of a sky scraper, the margaritas lived up to the view of all of Mexico City. However, the margaritas paled in comparison to the artistry and musicianship displayed at the ballet. Traditional song, dance and costume was paraded, and I swear I would’ve given all my money to watch the same two men duel on harps. I never wanted the dancing to end.

If I could recommend one place to visit in Mexico, go to Teotihuacan. I remember reading about these pyramids in fifth grade, unable to pronounce the name of the civilization. The pyramids, once colorful, were stone steps up to a high platform. The pyramids of the sun and moon (misnomers, by the way) were both sights to behold and behold from. From the tops of each, you can see the expanse of the archeological site as well as Mexico’s diverse landscape. Between the small temples lining the “street” between the pyramids, friendly wild dogs roamed protecting the space and posing politely for photos. The hike was intense up hundreds of narrow and steep steps, but it wouldn’t be right any other way. We managed another meal full of al pastor and a night of beer and mezcal to celebrate our triumph over the hike.

On our last full day we experienced some colonial beauty at the park and castle of Chapultepec. The park, like central park, opens up in the midst of the bustling city and the castle, perched atop a hill, feels like slices of Versailles stacked upon each other and dropped in Mexico. The anthropology museum, at the opposite entrance of the park, holds that massive “Mayan Calendar” that is neither Mayan nor calendar. Tired and weary, our trip was coming to a close and we had one last sight to behold.

After a 45 minute Uber drive we all arrived in Xochimilco to embark on a ride through the swampy lagoon on a vibrant boat. Sort of like a Mexican party gondola. Mariachi sang on boats floating by while other boats, packed to capacity, became floating fiestas. The celebratory boat ride signified a successful trip and a bittersweet end to a week of better-than-expected weather and planning.

Lastly on the fifth day, we returned to Panederia Rosetta for one last buttery, flakey croissant, just so sad to leave.

I know you didn’t come here for a Rick Steves Tour, so here is the best of the best: my top 5 foods from Mexico City (plus some honorable mentions).

  • Tacos al pastor
  • Mango with chili, lime and salt
  • Pulche (a traditional fermented drink)
  • Churros from El Moro
  • Guava roll from Panederia Rosetta

Honorable mentions:

  • Mezcal with the dead worm floating in it.
  • Street corn ‘con todos’ (with mayonnaise, chili, queso fresco and lime)
Homemade Lactofermented Hot Sauce

I want to pickle and ferment everything now

food

I’ve been pretty obsessed with the idea of fermentation. Keeping something in a jar on your counter in hopes it’ll become a bubbly science experiment excites me in a little kid sort of way. Five year old Marcella would never get away with making this kind of mess in my family’s kitchen. But 22 year old Marcella pays her own rent and can leave jalapeños in a cloudy brine on her counter for as long as she likes.

Now I didn’t just enter the world of fermentation and nail it. I wanted to ease into it. I started with a quick pickle. A quick pickle method emulates the flavor of those crispy summertime pickles you want to slap on burgers or just eat out of the damn jar. It’s basically a long, vinegar-based marinade. The sugar/vinegar combo gives it that pseudo-funky flavor but without all of the benefits of natural lactobacillus fermentation (big words, we’ll get there). The gist of a quick pickle is submerging the vegetable in a heated mixture of equal parts vinegar and water. Dissolve salt and sugar in the liquids and add aromatic spices like bay leaves, coriander, peppercorns and really whatever hearty spices you want to bring out. Then pour the hot mixture over the vegetables. The vegetables can get spruced up with some added raw garlic and other softer aromatics like leafy herbs or ginger. Let all the contents marinate in that jar for a few days before cracking it open and putting those crispy and delicious veggies on EVERYTHING.

Now fermentation is a metabolic process in which natural sugars are broken down and carbon dioxide is released. I remember a biology experiment in eighth grade involving a packet of yeast, juice and a balloon. As time went on the balloon fixed atop a bottle containing the juice and yeast started to fill with air – fermentation was happening and the yeast was, essentially, breathing. We also straight up made wine in class so that was cool.

The chemical process is initiated by yeast which exists in the air, not just in those handy packets at the grocery store. Lactobacillus fermentation breaks down glucose and transforms it into lactic acid. No, this doesn’t involve dairy (but yeah, it could). The transformation is what turns wheat and grapes into beer and wine respectively. It preserves these foods and actually makes them safe to eat even a year after purchasing them fresh. Also makes them funky as hell.

I chose to quick pickle jalapeños using the recipe above (plus turmeric) and ferment jalapeños to make my own hot sauce. I followed this hot sauce video but used jalapeños instead of fresno chilis. Yes, the brine will get cloudy and yucky looking. That means it’s working. However, and I cannot stress this enough, keep the peppers submerged otherwise that cloudiness could become mold, fuzzy stuff on top of exposed peppers.

The result is a tangy, spicy and funky sauce that seems to get spicier as it sits. The two pickled products provide that welcome kick to many dishes (some favorites are tacos, eggs and salads) but the difference is in the nuanced flavor. The fermented peppers are complex and spicy with the sourness of vinegar present but not overwhelming. The quick pickled peppers remain crunchy but the vinegar plays a crucial role in the bright flavor.

Both have their places. I definitely would make both again as they require little active time and the payoff lasts. Different spices and additions can breathe new life into these pepper, or different vegetables can be used to hold onto spring and summer’s bounty long into the winter.

Tofu, meet the omnivores

food, lifestyle, vegetarian

My first encounter with tofu was neither pleasant nor life changing. I ordered a miso soup that accompanied a sushi dinner. I remember dunking my spoon into the cloudy amber liquid and lifting jiggly chunks of tofu out from beneath the brothy surface. The flavor was nothing spectacular but the texture was just a little off-putting. I had little to no desire to give tofu a second chance.

But this wouldn’t be a good blog post if I didn’t try tofu again. Many years later I tried tofu in a rice bowl, cooked until crispy and drenched in creamy coconut curry sauce. I thought “man, this is good.” For a second I thought vegetarianism was possible for me.

But the truth is, I love meat. I grew up in an Italian household and that meant fish for Christmas, lamb for Easter and fresh vegetables on the side. The comforts of a Sunday sauce simmered with meatballs or a fried chicken cutlet at my grandma’s house could never be replaced by vegetarian alternatives.

Though I love meat, I have no desire to try something marketed as a “meat alternative.” It’s not meat, don’t try to make it meat. What do I want? I want to highlight plant based proteins and meals for their naturally, non-meat flavors, which brings me to tofu. Let’s edit the dialogue…

While some “meat substitutes” capitalize on tofu’s ability to crumble like ground beef, I prefer to savor this jiggly soy protein for its naturally appealing qualities, and that means heavy handed seasoning and crisping the edges until golden brown. Since tofu is a blank canvas seasoning is everything. It’s not the time to be timid in the kitchen. In my experiences, tofu tastes best with a sweet and salty sauce (like here in this vegan noodle bowl). The tofu’s creamy texture also compliments a bit of spice nicely, so go ahead and add those chili peppers.

When cooking tofu, at least for a crispy result, it is imperative to really squeeze that liquid out. Put the block under some weights and let it just release liquid for as long as possible before cooking. This will ensure maximum flavor absorption and minimal spongey texture.

The downside to tofu? Not great for leftovers unless eaten cold. In my experience reheating tofu results in that rubbery texture. Certain things (like the aforementioned noodle bowl) don’t taste spectacular cold or reheated, but a cold tofu dish tastes great. These shawarma spiced tofu pitas tasted arguably better the next day cold: the tofu maintained crisp edges and didn’t seize up and become little morsels of rubbery nightmares.

Takeaways to this tofu rant: vegetarians and non-vegetarians can enjoy tofu. Period. If you try tofu and it’s spongey or jiggly, give it a shot elsewhere. Season it aggressively and don’t expect a meaty flavor. Instead, approach tofu with open-mindedness and interest to try something new. You might be an omnivore like me and begin incorporating more plant based meals into your diet too, no disguise needed.

The Vintage Market, Santo Spirito

Photography, Travel, Vintage

My spirit and soul yearn for one single place: Florence, Italy. Every morning I sprang out of bed to the sound of Santa Maria Del Fiore’s bells, sometimes with a grand plan and other times with the desire to just explore. One Sunday I found myself in my favorite corner of the city, Piazza Santo Spirito. Brunelleschi’s austere church facade loomed over the sun drenched square, demanding attention and reverence despite the hustle and bustle below.

Every second Sunday vendors lined the square with vintage knick knacks, clothes and furniture. I encountered a smiling man selling brass kitchen wares (a bottle opener shaped like a woman’s legs, decorative cabinet hardware, interesting stuff), women picking through vintage clothing and tables cluttered with photos and trinkets emblematic of the past. I saw real communist pins next to embroidered cloth panels. And, of course, there would be no market without food in Italy. Next to the old vases you could pick up a hot porchetta sandwich. Ideal.

While anything and everything seemed available, clothing stalls expressed the most stark dichotomy of all. Some stalls featured clothing racks with vintage and restored pieces costing over 25 euro while others had piles of weathered and worn garments all costing 5 euro, no more and no less. I approached the table with hope and started picking through pieces with local nonnas.

I finally found it. THE shirt. A white embroidered linen blouse, slightly too big for my frame, but utterly perfect. Vertical vines dropped from the shoulders to the mid-torso. This white blouse embodied summer in Italy and I knew I had to have it.

Quanto costo?

Cinque euro.

Yes, 5 euro later and I toted home my favorite blouse in the Florentine sun.

This shirt feels gorgeous and vintage. I think it’s a men’s shirt but it has a feminine quality that I love. I remember wearing it during the firsts few days of my first internship. I remember wearing it with my great grandma’s silk scarf tied around my neck. It just feels right on my skin.

Not to mention, Santo Spirito is one of the most gorgeous and underrated parts of Florence, in my opinion. Sure, I’m a typical American student and flocked to Gusta Pizza a few too many times for heart shaped pizza and a plastic cup of wine (“per porta in via” means you can take your wine to go which is magical when you find yourself drinking wine in a bank vestibule at 9pm), but I made sure to walk beyond the square into the artists’ quarter of the Oltrarno. Papier-mâché clowns and vintage jewelry took over storefront windows. Wisteria grew atop the old city walls. Hidden aperitivo joints came to life at night. To not visit Santo Spirito while in Florence would be to not see the soul of the citizens. It’s as if the oldest and youngest parts meet in this one square.

This white linen shirt brings memories of Santo Spirito to life. The texture of the cloth on my skin conjures memories of sunny days eating berries at the market or getting sucked into the oldest streets of the city completely unsupervised. Reflected in the stitches I see the cobblestone streets and treasure chests of wonder.

Intentionally burning food was my first sign of true adulthood

food

A timid child, I cried at damn near everything. Couldn’t get the combination in dance class? I cried. Someone made a harmless joke? I cried. I was frustrated easily and fragile beyond help. I was insecure and sheepish for years. That girl is long gone now, but the lingering effects held on in one facet of my life: my cooking. I loved cooking and baking, but I yearned for perfection every time. There were never burnt edges or crispy bits on any of my baked goods or meals, but that resulted in undercooking nearly everything. Setting timers for the minimum cooking time and being the most pesky oven checker were my culinary downfalls. I craved perfection so tenaciously that my efforts had the opposite effect entirely.

Early in my college career my love for food manifested itself into my academics. In my journalism classes I squeezed food into every assignment I could, from political assignments to longform creative pieces. I attempted to become that modern urban farmgirl who cooked squash and overnight oats and blogged about it. I was passionate about local honey and became evangelical about eating locally and seasonally. I had ancient grains coming out of my ears. I needed to have my quirky side and excel at something niche. I snagged an internship with a local food publication and became a published food writer. And yet, each time I roasted a vegetable I couldn’t keep my hands off the oven handle. I hauled squash from the farmers market to class only to bring it home and woefully under season or undercook it for the sake of not making a mistake. I was the girl watching the pot boil. I would peek into the door and feel the warm dry heat on my face, look at the slight color on whatever was cooking, and take it out prematurely. I would take food out of the oven, plate the dish and realize it was undercooked after slicing into it, after which I would throw it in the microwave and nuke the crap out of it, making up for lost time.

My desire to achieve perfection overshadowed my research and knowledge. The hours I spent reading Bon Appetit and Food52 were wasted because my internal monologue inserted itself into the narrative. I knew that color equaled flavor. I knew that salt was essential to all recipes and despite knowing those facts and more, my food was timid and colorless. I was a people pleaser down to my core, and while then I would never admit it, now I see how desperate I was to be an image of perfection through and through. I can definitely attribute that (and probably any aforementioned insecurities) to some form of anxiety. I would bring baked goods to family gatherings and sit anxiously as everyone cut into my acceptably cooked and seasoned pie, knowing that I could have cooked the crust longer or added spices other than cinnamon to the filling. I was obsessed with following a recipe and not deviating from that, fearing that a freestyle move might cost me my reputation. I made beautiful looking olive oil cakes that could have used extra time in the oven, or more lemon zest than the recipe required. While everyone loves the gooey, undercooked section of the brownie pan, everyone also likes the crispy edges. My insecurities revealed themselves in my inability to deliver both.

In any communal living situation and even when I would cook with my boyfriend, my sheepishness returned. Too nervous to make a mistake, I would either wait until the coast was clear and the kitchen was empty, or ask him (or whoever else I was cooking with) to do many of the things I knew I could do but just felt unsure about in the moment. Everyone’s a critic and for some reason, despite being the most amateur of amateurs, I was afraid my knife skills, or some other trivial aspect of my cooking, would insight mocks and giggles.

I’m now 22 and living alone. In my castle (this one bedroom apartment), I am the queen and I’m cooking for me and only me. It’s now that I’m getting dare I say edgy about cooking. I’m taking risks with flavors because who but me am I aiming to please? In the most cynical of ways, I didn’t care about disappointing myself. And yet, that’s how I achieved perfection, or what tasted like it. I love cooking onions until they stick to the pan and take on caramel sweetness. I love hearing sausages sizzle in the pan and take on crispy brown sides. I like seeing the edges of my fried egg become crispy and lacy from the heat. I season haphazardly knowing that no one around me can tell me something is too spicy. I don’t measure my spices with a spoon, but I feel the granules leave my palm as I just toss. I’m the queen of the kitchen sink, sometimes throwing whatever I have in my fridge together and wishing for the best while I let it simmer, bubble, or bake.

Taking control of my kitchen and eating food that I enjoyed unapologetically was a sign of adulthood. I realized that I actually like kale, provided it was smothered in olive oil and roasted into crisps. Deciding what to eat, when to eat it, and most importantly how to eat it seems menial but the creativity thrills me. You know you’re a real adult when dinner’s uncertain outcome becomes exciting. Cooking for myself, I feel shameless in my choices. I can eat spicy potatoes whenever I want, or breakfast for dinner on a Tuesday.

And mistakes? I don’t know her. In the words of Bob Ross, “there are no mistakes, only happy accidents.” Rarely does a silly mistake warrant an unsalvageable meal. Sometimes you just need to think it over and find a way to repurpose or rectify without retrograding and crying over a burnt pan sauce.

In this journey through burnt edges and sloppy sautés I’ve learned more about my heart than I’ve learned about cooking: there’s more to life than perfection, and if you’re a people pleaser make sure you don’t leave yourself out of the equation.

Cook Your Dang Fruit

food

Last weekend was a blur of eating greasy meals and understanding that I certainly can’t drink like I did in college. I desperately needed to eat a vegetable so on Sunday I bought kale, carrots, peppers and squash. When I came home I realized I still had some fruit in my crisper. I thought, “oh shoot, I have to eat this.” When I reached in the crisper the plums felt fine. The apples mostly were okay, except for one squishy, mealy monster. If I wasn’t in my current mindset, I would think to just throw it away. But that would be insane. This post should really be called “eat your dang fruit” but that would be too easy. No, when your fruits sit in your fridge for just a little too long think to cook them instead of throw them away.

I chopped up the apple and threw it into my new (spiffy) little red pot with just a little water so the sugars don’t burn to the bottom of the pot. I added cloves, cinnamon and honey and let it just simmer and spatter until the apples transformed into gooey goodness.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to cook fruit. It’s truly smart, especially when you clearly abandon your fruit for lack of interest. Cooked fruit tastes delightful in oatmeal or over greek yogurt and creates the illusion that you’re eating something new. It tastes special, like dessert. And what’s better than dessert on a weeknight?

Success, failure and what really happens

lifestyle

Let’s start with a walk down memory lane: you’re 14 and watching 27 Dresses with your best friend. You’re both shoveling chocolate into your mouths thinking that James Marsden is the cutest guy ever. You idolize Katherine Heigl’s humble, selfless character and think “wow I’m not going to be like her selfish sister, I’m going to be like her!” Well, kids, it happened. You’re 22 years old and your notebooks are falling apart with to-do lists and calendars. You’re saying “yes” to almost everything. And finally, you’re running between jobs to make everyone happy. What is the price of your 27 Dresses lifestyle?

People offer advice and help but what do you say when someone says you need to take a break?

All joking aside, I’m learning each day how crucial it is to take care of yourself. I read a quote earlier today: “you don’t have to be stressed or busy to be important.” And while I struggled to find the words of wisdom to help me through this time, those were them. I’m putting myself in difficult situations because working every day and being hopelessly tired every night means I’m important. Wrong. It means I’m stretching myself too thin and compromising other elements of my life: relationships, physical health, mental health, and even job performance. I realized today that due to my tiredness and lack of concentration last week, I really let some of my responsibilities slide. It affected so many other people involved in my job, and while I wasn’t obligated to work my main job while I was at my second job, I felt it was my duty as a decent person to not let more work slip through the cracks. I somehow worked two full days over the course of one normal work day. I slid behind doors that I knew blocked security cameras to answer emails. I ate cold pizza from a Tupperware container perched on my knees while I drove from the museum to my office to pick up some materials and have a short meeting. I mean, I tried living two days in one and that was insane.

Success isn’t defined by your lack of sleep. Failure isn’t defined by your attention to self care. Success isn’t characterized by skipping meals. Failure isn’t the picture of you in your blue bathrobe. The reality is, each of us defines success and failure in our own thoughts and actions. “Everyone is on their own unique path in life.” That’s been my mantra since embarking on this journey. My path is the road I’ve been on, but I’m driving the car.

I need to put myself first. I’m at a point where I need to feel confident in my abilities to an extent and feel like I can work hard and sleep hard, not just work hard and feel like vomiting all the time. Sorry for that visual, but I’m about telling the truth here.

So this Katherine Heigl martyr character shall be no more, and while I won’t undertake the identity of the inauthentic, selfish, wedding-crazy younger sister, I will stop being the star of my own rom-com.