What I'm Loving | 8/19/2018

Yesterday was Global Climbing Day and I'm so glad my gym participated! Of course, I love The North Face's clothes, but their philanthropy resonates with me as well. I'm not progressing in climbing as quickly as I'd like to, so going to events like this is valuable as I'm surrounded with people who are much better than myself  — and I'll wear a "Walls Are Meant For Climbing" shirt any day

Here's what I'm loving lately: 

Reading :: Elanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a thousand times better than fine. Seriously, it might be one of my favorite books of the year. Anything else I say will just turn into gushing, but trust me, it's worth the read! Now I'm on Little Fires Everywhere â€” it's taking some directions I did NOT see coming but it's rather interesting and I can't wait to find out where it goes.

Spare Time :: I've started a cross-training regimen in the hopes of upping my climbing grade and I am NOT thrilled. I love staying active and thankfully most of my hobbies cater to that, but doing a standard workout is not my cup of tea. I'm just trying to stay focused on my goal and power through, but I'd so much rather just climb. 😬

Etcetera ::  I found out about Matchbox Kitchen through their recent Tasty video featuring a no-waste chocolate cake. Even without practicing a zero-waste lifestyle, it certainly serves as inspiration for ways we can be more conscious about the trash we're creating in our day-to-day lives.

"Know Thyself"

Have you ever noticed that so much in society hinges on the divide of "being yourself" vs. "pretending"? There are endless iterations about being true to who you are, being your most authentic self, etc., presented as the solutions to the majority of our lives' problems.

However, before we can embark on this mission of self-assuredness, we have to know ourselves first...and that's easier said than done. Losing your personality in relationships, in your career, and all of life's other endless distractions is so easy, meanwhile, regaining it and knowing it is so hard.

It's easy to discuss the importance of being yourself, but what we don't often talk about is the importance of getting to know yourself. For people in movies, this is what happens when they have no other choice. The stereotypical gal in the big city who gets dumped and finds out it's actually the best, or the divorcee who eats, prays and loves around the world until she figures it out.

While a grandiose, personal renaissance is more appealing to the big screen, life doesn't always work out that way. In fact, I'd be willing to bet there are a lot of people who never get the opportunity to know who they are. Life has a way of shaping us all, and letting yourself be shaped by circumstance can often be the path of least resistance.

As someone who's always been on the quiet, no-fuss side of the personality spectrum, it's incredibly easy to get caught in that trap. Between friends with strong personalities and the infinite urge to be a people-pleaser I've gotten lost so many times along the way, and I still do. But it's getting better. Instead of giant revelations, knowing myself has happened in the smallest of ways. I'm spending more time considering my own opinions and ideas, and asking for what I want out of life — opposed to the person I used to be who NEVER spoke up, this is a big improvement.

I always want to maintain my agreeable nature, but agreeing for the sake of not causing friction is no longer something that fits into my life. I've found that simply stopping to consider what I want (not what I think other people want me to want!) is the best way to start. That might seem simple to some people — and it is simple — but for someone who has traditionally been more intent on keeping the peace than creating my own, that's a big revelation.

I still struggle to speak up and it's in my nature that I likely always will. Despite this, this exercise in self-awareness has allowed me to feel more empowered, more confident, and more like myself (whatever that means). As I continue to work through life (as an almost-23 year old!) I want to go with the assurance that I DO know who I am and that I know how to stay true to that person. I can't be myself if I don't know who that is, so here's to finding out as I go along!

Amanda McDowellComment
What I'm Loving | 8/12/2018

The air quality around here has been poor due to fires north of Napa, so since Rusty and I both have allergies (😂) we've been taking it easy this week. I am so thankful that we didn't end up with a high-energy, off-the-rails dog at times like this, because even he's been a little stir crazy after being cooped up. 

We've tried to have fun inside though — our trainer gave us a new toy for tug so that's been helping quite a bit. Baby boy does not like to give up his toys, so he'll play tug so long I end up needing a break before he does! Then he sleeps for hours so it all works out just fine.

Here's what I'm loving lately: 

Reading :: All I've wanted to do this week is read, it seems! I finished up An American Marriage â€” what a well-written and unique book. The story was interesting, but what really made it exceptional was the way the characters were portrayed. They felt like 3-dimensional beings instead of words on a page, and you experience their feelings in real time. I moved on to Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race, and while it's a social commentary on the structural racism in Britain, it absolutely still applies to the discussion about race all over the world. The author lays out her points clearly and is well-researched about the facts. I would consider this as a must-read for a person of any race who's trying to understand the systems of oppression that people of color continue to face. Now, I'm delving into Elanor Oliphant is Completely Fine which, so far, is unique in the best ways. 

Listening :: This might not resonate with a lot of readers out there, but Nicki Minaj's new album is SO good. I was checking it out running errands on Friday and I was feeling it so much! Love to see successful women doing their thing. ♥️

Spare Time :: We went to go see a movie this week in what felt like the first time in ages! Moviepass's declining selection of showtimes has been disappointing, but since we go to an AMC theater we've switched to their service instead. We went to see Blindspotting and wow. One of the best movies we've seen in so long (and I'm not just saying that because it's based in Oakland!). It was hilarious at times, balanced with some very serious and true-to-life issues that people in our community and communities all over America are facing every day. Wholeheartedly recommend it.

Etcetera ::  Burritos are the perfect food. I had one of the best burritos of my life in a Mission taqueria this week, but I also love to throw together pinto beans, ground beef, and taco rice in a tortilla so we have a quick meal always on hand. Just throw them in the fridge (or they freeze beautifully) and reheat when you're ready. Fast, cheap and far better for you than the traditional freezer-aisle burritos — the perfect food indeed!

My Favorite Beauty Brands

Shopping for beauty products takes so. much. time. I had never bothered to quantify it before, but last week I spent an entire hour of my life searching for a new shampoo. Thankfully I ended up liking the shampoo (and it's below), but I can't help but think about how many times I've invested that much research into a product and it has turned out to be a dud. I don't even want to think about all the creams, cosmetics and toiletries I've thrown out over the years because they didn't work for me.

While finding regular products is difficult, finding cruelty-free/vegan cosmetics is even more of a challenge. Unfortunately, a lot of brands aren't totally transparent, and a few even imply that they're cruelty-free when they aren't. Target has included cruelty-free as a filter on their beauty brands which is a HUGE help (and how I've found several of the items below!), but I still wanted to compile some brands that I 100% recommend.

While I haven't tried every product from all the brands below, I've tried enough that I feel comfortable choosing them again when I need other products in the future. None of the brands featured here are tested on animals, most can be found at your local Target/Sephora, and they all make quality products that are worth your hard-earned cosmetics budget! From shampoos to makeup to face washes, here are some of my faves:

Yes To: I’ve used so many of the Yes To products and every single one has been a hit for me. They were one of the first cruelty-free, small-ish brands I tried out, and while not every product has been a standout hit they've all been at least solid and usable. While it didn't work for my skin long-term, their grapefruit scrub is a great product. I'm currently using this fragrance-free daily SPF and while it goes on a little thick, it settles in nicely and works great under makeup.

The Body Shop: My friend Kailey told me about The Body Shop and I've never looked back. Their shipping takes FOREVER but it is so worth the wait. I stocked up during a sale, coming away with this body wash, this face scrub, and this primer/pore treatment. I love them all, but the primer/pore treatment is in the top ranks of beauty products I've ever used. I can actually tell a difference in my pore size, and tea tree oil is an effective ingredient for acne prevention. The wash and face scrub are also products I would highly recommend.

Love Beauty & Planet: When I bought this shampoo from Target, I didn't fully do my research and assumed I was supporting a small, sustainable brand. What I found out when I received it is that it's actually a division of Unilever...but I do love the shampoo. It does utilize sustainably-sourced ingredients, it smells great, and it makes my hair incredibly silky. While having a huge corporation pose as a smaller brand does feel deceptive, this is one of my favorite shampoos I've ever used so it still deserved to make the cut.

Pacifica: I got this Pacifica Body Butter on clearance at Target a month or so ago and couldn't wait to run out of my other stuff to give it a try. I like that it dispenses like a lotion with the creaminess of a body butter, and its smell is a 10/10. Everything Pacifica produces feels like a luxury beauty item, but it has the benefit of being available at regular stores, too. I've also been pleased with their face washes and shampoo in the past, and they often have deals through Target so you can stock up and save!

Fenty: The entire Fenty collection has been making waves, and for good reason. I've tried a few different products, but nothing has compared to my instant love for the Flyliner. I've used the Kat Von D tattoo liner for years but the Flyliner blows it out of the water. It's perfectly opaque, super long-lasting, and at the same price point. The application has taken some trial and error because of just how saturated the color is — i.e. if you make a mistake, it's noticeable — but it's worth the time to perfect. 

This list certainly isn't exhaustive, but if you're in the market for new cosmetics this is a great place to start! Let me know your favorite beauty brands in the comments 👇

Amanda McDowellComment
What I'm Loving | 8/5/2018

It's August! I know August is typically the back-to-school month, but I also feel like it's when summer musters its full strength at being a season. At least in Tennessee, June and July would be uncomfortably warm but it wasn't until August that things got HOT. Although in the Bay Area, August is referred to as "Fogust" because it's typically our foggiest month of the year. I'll just keep waiting patiently for that October summer like we had last year!

Here's what I'm loving lately: 

Reading :: I legitimately could not put The Virgin Suicides down. Just the right level of intrigue, mystery, and narrative power come together for a fascinating read. I do have to caution that the topic of suicide is discussed heavily in the book, so it's probably not the best read if that's something you'd rather avoid. The author does a good job of keeping it as light as one could, but there are still parts that are difficult to read. I then read Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel (author of This Is How It Always Is). It isn't the type of thing I'd typically enjoy, but I figured I might as well give it a shot. It quickly turned into another I couldn't put down, but it also didn't inspire in me the amount of passion that other books have. It was interesting, well-told, and unpredictable, but I'd consider it a light read despite the heavy subject matter within the story. Now I'm on An American Marriage; just barely into it, but if my girl Oprah recommends it, it has gotta be good.

Listening :: I have no musical talent, skill, or natural inclination, but I am intrigued by the Song Exploder Podcast. He sits down with artists and deconstructs how they assemble their songs — probably not as interesting if it's an artist you're not into, but he's happened to interview some of my all-time favorites. 

Spare Time :: I'm going to be quite frank — I've been shopping. I've bought books, clothes, shoes, and wine glasses this week and I have no idea why. I'm getting sales and it feels great to buy items I genuinely love, but I need to calm it on down. But I have gotten some REALLY cute things. 

Etcetera ::  Recently, I've been thinking a lot about Anthropologie's marketing tactics. While I've always loved Anthro and can't recall a time I left without making a purchase, I went in on Thursday and really tried to quantify why that is. I think it's because they specialize in curating their stores in a way that make you feel as though the items could make you the best version of yourself. It's a store filled with things that any chic gal would want — do I need copper-handled cooking utensils? Absolutely not, but I want to be the type of person that owns them. And the crazy thing is, it works! As I sit here sipping coffee out of my gold-handled floral-print mug, I do feel like an optimized version of myself. Everything smells wonderful and is so beautiful, it somehow makes you justify paying $14 a piece for wine glasses that are beautifully flaked with metallic gold accents. It's all about selling you who you want to be. 

5 Things To Know Before Your First Climbing Competition

My first climbing competition has come and gone. I'm not competitive in nature, so I never set out with the goal to compete when I started bouldering regularly. In fact, I wasn't even planning on doing this one!

The reason I chose to is that my gym requires everyone (even spectators) to fill out the same waiver, so I figured if I'm going to be there and be signed up anyway, I might as well get on the wall. Now that I've done one, I'm hooked! I'm already thinking about how to train for the next one in November. I'm still not competitive, but I do like having a way to quantify progress on my favorite hobby.

That being said, I was definitely scared and confused and a little worried leading up to the day. If you're preparing for your first competition and you've been googling disjointed strings of climbing-related lingo, I was there, too! It's hard to learn about these things if you don't know where to start, even as someone who's been climbing for a while. Here are my five main takeaways/need-to-know for any first-time competitor:

Know your comp structure.

Details about this should be on the competition website, but that can be somewhat vague. For instance, I knew this one was a 5-try Redpoint, but without knowing what that means it's not super helpful!

For a redpoint, there are a few different ways to get into the particulars but the general format is that each problem is assigned a point value. If you finish the route on your first try, you get full points, second, you get less, and so on. You can attempt a problem 5 times for a score — if you get it after that, no points are awarded. Your score is then calculated as an average from your 5 best climbs. You keep track on a scorecard, so bring a pen!

I've never seen an onsight, but from my understanding, you're not allowed to see the routes before you climb them, and you're given a time limit in which you have to send the problem or move along. Sounds scary!

You will be there for a long time.

Plan on things being BUSY. My gym is generally busy anyway so I thought I was prepared, but not for this volume. Don't be surprised if you get 1 attempt every half hour; be thankful for the extra rest! Even with the crowds, I was done in about 3 hours due to my hands still being delicate little babies.

Plan your strategy.

I admittedly didn't do this well, but I certainly will next time. There's a great Reddit post I found about strategy here â€” different things work for different folks, but I would go in with a plan. Otherwise, you'll end up wide-eyed and overwhelmed once your scorecard is in your hand (not that I know from experience).

It's tempting to get intense.

Being competitive isn't at all in my nature, but once things got kicked off I was starting to feel a little edgy. The energy is high, the points are there for the taking, and there are children cutting lines left and right, so it can be a recipe for being grumpy if you let it! Just remind yourself to have fun and enjoy it. You only have one first competition!

Stay until the end.

My comp was an evening event with an end time of 10 PM and not enough pizza — meaning I left before the end. In hindsight, I would have definitely stayed! There was a raffle and seeing the winners announced would have been cool.

If you can, go the next day, too.

This might be a gym-specific thing, but my gym left the competition problems up all weekend. While climbing in the event was helpful in its own ways, I was able to go back and try again on Sunday for some of the problems I wasn't able to get day-of. That helped me better understand where my threshold lies (and made me kick myself for not trying a few more problems the day of..).

Like I said, I'm training for November's Battle of the Bay, so if you have any training tips, send 'em my way!

Amanda McDowellComment
What I'm Loving | 7/29/2018

Do you ever have weeks where you constantly catch yourself staring aimlessly at your phone? I had the compulsive phone-checking habit under control for awhile, so I'm not sure what's happened to me! It seems like I'm just reaching for it out of reflex, instead of channeling that effort into things that are actually what I want to spend my life thinking about. Maybe writing this will serve as a way to hold me accountable and stop looking at my dang phone so much. 😂

Here's what I'm loving lately: 

Reading :: I finally wrapped up Prarie Fires. It was a very in-depth look at not only the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, but how what she lived through came to be melded into the Little House series. The question of fact vs. fiction has always surrounded volumes and this book did a fair job at explaining the reason why that became such a topic of discussion. It was very thorough which I didn't hate, but I wouldn't recommend the book for someone who isn't already a fan of the series as it might seem a bit dull. I started The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides on Thursday and I'm already sucked in! I've never seen the movie and I don't know much about the book, but Middlesex is a favorite of mine so I have high hopes. 

Listening :: The Growlers. Perfect for this not-summer summer weather we're having and just general easy listening.

Spare Time :: We've (read: Harley) has spent a lot of time on the car this week. After spending a day troubleshooting the radio, we were finally able to get it swapped for a working one which was one of my top priority tasks! There's also some less-fun stuff like fluids and rods that need replacing...but we have tunes now!

Etcetera ::  I've started taking a magnesium supplement, and it's been a welcome addition to my daily routine. I mainly wanted to give it a shot as I've read quite a bit about the effects of magnesium on anxiety, but it's also been a great help to have my muscles recovering faster between climbs. It also doesn't hurt that the watermelon flavor is delish. 

A Check-In With Bird

In the new doggie commotion, I realized it may have seemed like Bird has taken a back seat in my life. I promise she's still getting just as many pets, treats, and attention as she was before — maybe even more treats as she tends to make Rusty share.

When asked what she thinks of her new brother, she glances my way briefly and continues to groom her front right paw. I assume this means she's okay with the change because she knows she's still the queen of the castle. While we have become a unified family,  Bird is still the only one with unrestricted bed privileges which I think has solidified her status as head of the household...now if only she could claim me on her taxes.

Bringing any new animal the mix will disrupt the family dynamic a bit. However, with the right amount of training and patience, it can be a rewarding experience all around. Bird is no stranger to new people, many animals, and more moves than are recommended for cat owners, but I think that's exactly what's made her such a wonderful companion.

Above all else, I would describe Bird as resilient. She loves her mom, her catstle, and even loves #1 cat dad a little, too. As long as she has those things and plenty of treats, I think she can tackle most things. I don't imagine she'll ever be an adventure cat, but she handles new people, loud noises, and dogs with patience and grace. She's flown on a plane, jumped off a balcony, and shown countless people who "don't like" cats that cats are actually pretty cool. Granted, she also spent a week in hiding when Rusty came home and runs away from the coconut oil container (still haven't figured that one out), but ultimately she's a pretty calm gal, and a pretty great one, too.

An overwhelmingly high number of people asked me why in the world I wanted a cat (haters!), but I realized that not a lot of people have ever been around cats long enough to get to know their dynamic personalities and fun little quirks.

Cats teach you about the way that we love — and the way we project our needs and desires onto the animals that we care for. Instead of loving a cat the way you want to love it, you have to do so in the way it needs to be loved — something I think that everyone could learn a little bit more about. 

So overall, Bird is doing very well...right now she's eating a stray pasta noodle out of the sink, but overall, she's well. Our lives have shifted, but she's still my #1 baby gal raccoon bff loaf nugget, and even though she can never understand that the flies are on the OTHER SIDE of the window and that 4 AM is not the best time to hang out, she's still a wonderful companion.

What I'm Loving | 7/22/2018

I've felt uninspired this week, and I'm not sure why. When I'd close my computer at the end of the day, I just felt like a zombie reaching for my phone to spend an hour looking at an even smaller screen...not fun! I was having issues focusing, even having trouble sitting down to read.

I still don't know what the cause was, but on Friday I knew something had to give. I grabbed my camera and Rusty and we went on a lovely mini-tour of the gardens nearby, and I felt  so much better afterwards. Sometimes all you need really is a change of scenery!

Here's what I'm loving lately: 

Reading :: The going has been slower on Prarie Fires. I'm still finding it interesting, but I'm at the point where I'm three quarters through and it's been on the same subject for a. while. I also haven't had a ton of motivation to read this week as I mentioned above, so it's not a good combo. I am still determined to finish it, though!

Listening :: Did you know there are podcasts to help you learn languages? I feel like such a nerd to be excited about this, but I took German in college and I'd love to resharpen my skills. I'm going to sample a few of them and find one that sticks.

Spare Time :: I feel like I've done a lot of research this week. I'm finding new skincare brands and new supplements (just trying to live my best life!), but there's SO much research that goes into that. I spent an hour looking at shampoo brands the other day 😳. It feels like a waste of time, but nothing is better than finding a product you love!

Etcetera ::  I've decided to rebrands this at "etcetera" for now because I don't want to pigeonhole myself! So I'm going to start sharing one random thing from the week that I've loved. It will probably end up being a lot of recipes, but for this week I wanted to share the blog A Cup of Jo. This blog is so huge and I don't know how I never knew about it until this week, but I binged so many of her posts because I just couldn't stop reading!

Have Dog, Will Travel

We've still got a few things to do to the Suub before we can really start traveling, but in my mind I'm already ready to go. We finally found a campsite that wasn't booked until October (only for one night, but still), and we'll be planning a trip to Tahoe once we have a good idea of when the snow will be in full force.

I've been having the restless feeling that comes as things are on the horizon but don't appear to be drawing closer — for now I'm trying to focus on what we need to do to get there, but I wish I could just go have fun already.

To combat this uninspired restlessness (and plan ahead for the inevitable booking madness), I've been doing research like crazy to decide what locations we should make a priority! Below are the top four on my list:

- Yosemite. This place is so incredibly gorgeous! I've heard horror stories about trying to get in on a weekend, but I've heard from a few locals that a mild February is the best time to go as it's a low travel month.

- Big Sur. Just about 2 hours away, Big Sur is a sprawling park that features hiking, beaches, and mountains. Camping is all booked up here, but there are some spots where you can stay directly on the ocean that we'll be trying to score next year.

- Tahoe. Known for its skiing, many people don't realize that Lake Tahoe has stuff to do year-round. I know a few people who have gone this summer to float around, hike, and generally enjoy the scenery. Once again, the camping is all booked up, but we'll hit the slopes this winter and plan a summer camping trip next year for sure!

- Joshua Tree. It's a bit of a drive from the Bay Area, but the scenery at Joshua Tree is like no other. All of the camping here is first come, first served, which is a bit discouraging for a 9 hour drive. However, there are plenty of things I'd like to check out in that half of California, so this might get rolled into a bigger trip with alternative sleeping arrangements if possible.

If you're familiar with California camping, I would love any site recommendations or tips you could throw my way!

Amanda McDowellComment