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Growing a green thumb

I am, um, not a natural when it comes to plants. But I absolutely love them, so when I moved out I started making a concerted effort toward learning how to properly care for them.

I started really simple with a few air plants plus a couple of succulents I already had. The rule was that if I could keep a new plant alive (and relatively healthy) for 3 months, then I could get another one. This plan has been mostly successful, and I now have a small collection at my apartment, mostly on the patio where they get good sunlight.

As I’ve gotten more plants, I’ve also slowly escalated the level of skill needed to care for them. (And I do mean slowly.) This leveling-up has been:

  • Air plants
  • Succulents
  • Polka-dot plant
  • Spider plant
  • Aloe
  • Pothos
  • Basil (I’ll be adding more herbs very soon)

Moving and unpredictable weather have made it tough for a couple of these guys, but so far they’re hanging on. And while I aspire to have the sort of green thumb that would mean plants enjoy me as much as I enjoy them, I also fully admit we’re not there yet.

Throughout this process I have picked up some handy tips for helping our little green friends survive, and hopefully thrive:

Start small. As in don’t get a physically huge plant, and don’t get something super complicated. Pretty much everything I listed above is good for a beginner (except maybe basil), and are easily available in manageable, apartment-friendly sizes. Pro tip: Don’t start with seeds or sprouts either, as this portion of a plant’s growth cycle is particularly delicate. Pick a plant buddy who’s already established some roots.)

Do your research. Know what you want from a plant (air quality, foliage, flowers, etc.) and know the kind of environment you’ll be bringing it into (light level, humidity, temperature, etc.). Once you know those things, a few Google searches should bring up some suitable options.

Keep it natural. Whenever possible, design a plant’s environment to reflect its native environment (e.g. cactus-style potting mix for succulents or aloes; bright, indirect light for air plants; soft, but well-draining soil for basil). If you’re putting a lot of plants outside, or especially planting them in the actual ground where they may spread, try to choose plants native to your area. Not only will they grow better, but it’s more environmentally friendly! (Also stuff that encourages bees and butterflies, as their populations needs to be encouraged wherever possible.)

Water when dry. Seriously, it’s usually that simple. The best advice I’ve gotten on plant care is to wait to water until your plant’s soil is dry, and then give it a thorough watering. Overwatering a plant is often even more dangerous to a plant than under-watering, because it’s more difficult to fix. Pro tip: With air plants, I find that they do best when soaked for an hour or so about once a week in water, ideally with a bit of bromeliad fertilizer.

Go slowly with change. If a plant isn’t doing great, don’t make a ton of changes at once. For starters, it can shock the plant and further risk its health. Second, because plants can’t talk they can’t tell you what’s wrong. If you change a ton of elements at once, you may still not figure out what your buddy needs. Try making small changes, such as more or less light, one at a time. Give your plant some time with that change, and if it still isn’t happy try making another shift.

Trim as needed. If your plant has a dead or dying leaf, feel free to (gently) pull or cut it off. Often plants will devote extra water and nutrients to those leaves, which can hurt the health of other leaves.

Ask the experts. Feel free to swing by your local plant nursery and ask them about plants you have or are interested in getting. They can usually offer care tips, and can recommend what options might be best for your life and environment. One nursery near me even offers free classes on different gardening topics, which I’d highly recommend if you can find in your area.

And finally, the two types of plants I’ve loved having the most so far: air plants and pothos. Air plants are really fun and require minimal care, not even needing soil. They make really cool décor elements, and though they grow slowly it’s fun to see them flourish. Pothos are great for improving air quality and seriously love almost any light you give them — the one in the picture above has grown exceptionally well in my office. And if you do it right, they’re supposed to be easy to propagate! (I have not yet been brave enough to try.)

What are your best plant care tips? Let me know in a comment below, or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

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Stories in all shapes and sizes

Recently, I’ve been making a really concerted effort to consume media created by people who are different from me. It’s not about diversity points, though this has made the media I’ve consumed more diverse. The point is to learn and to build compassion.

I don’t throw a whole lot about the details of my personal beliefs up on this blog for a number of reasons, the greatest of which is that a one-sided “conversation” over the internet is just about the worst place to have constructive, life-giving interactions about subjects so closely tied to identity and other hot-button issues.

I’m not here to convince anyone of anything. Sure, I share advice and recommendations on this blog, but you’re free to take them or leave them. I’m sure years down the road I will have changed my mind about some of them. The point of this blog is to be a resource for emerging adults, because as an emerging adult, I felt frustrated by the lack of information and guidance in my sphere of existence.

But that’s just it. Over the course of my life (and the last couple of years in particular), my sphere of existence has grown immensely. I don’t mean how many friends I have — that number, in all reality, has gone down as relationship-building is no longer aided by the convenience of being in school together. I mean how I understand the world. How I see it, think about it, interact with it. And of course, how I see, think about, and interact with the people in it.

I’ve written before about how grateful I am that I grew up loving books, and how important reading is to building empathy and expanding one’s worldview. And it goes beyond books. TV shows, movies, podcasts, music, art or creative works of any kind are coming from a person (or group of people) with a history and a perspective.

And in theory, everyone’s perspective is different from my own. But there’s a lot of room for nuance in there. Someone who grew up in the same town as me and went to the same high school still has a different perspective on the world, but not in the same way as someone who grew up in a drastically different environment on the other side of the country or another continent. Innumerable factors play into this, but if I only listen to the voices that sound like me, think like me, look like me, and are treated like me, I would be drastically stunting the opportunity to learn about what’s beyond my own experience.

Particularly as someone who has had a great deal more opportunities and good fortune in life than, frankly, the majority of the world’s population, it is my privilege to push the boundaries of my understanding and create room in my life for voices that I haven’t heard from as often.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that I don’t consume or enjoy media and creative works from people who are very similar to me. If it’s enjoyable and benefits me without harming others, great. It’s simply about learning to find the balance between enjoying what I’m interested in, and noticing when what I’ve been taking in reflects too narrow a portion of the stories that are unfolding on this planet.

This goal, of course, is meant to be tempered by sensibility. I am not responsible to seek out voices that spend more time on vitriol than on empathy, or voices that cause or perpetuate harm — especially toward those who are especially vulnerable to such harm. I’m nobody’s keeper, but it is far more worthwhile for me to use what power I have to learn and grow — and when appropriate, to invite others to do the same.

A few of the ways I’ve been looking for media from different perspectives:

  • Asking for recommendations from others who have the same goal, or who are different from me. I’m in a book club right now that’s been great for that, but I also keep an eye out for social media posts, listen to podcasts, and get a few emails weekly that recommend new content to me.
  • Notice when media I’m consuming (visual art, music, TV, etc.) feels a little too much like what I’m used to. I was making a playlist a while back and realized that there wasn’t a lot of demographic diversity in the artists I was choosing — and that the musical diversity was suffering as a cause. I searched out some folks of different backgrounds that had a similar vibe to the original tracks, and found some new music I really enjoy in the process, while also supporting artists that likely get less airtime.
  • Enjoy it. As important as I think multiple perspectives are, there are also particular stories or creators that I go back to simply because their work connects with me, and that’s okay. My goal is never to exclude what I want to enjoy, simply to expand the horizons of what I perceive as available to enjoy.

Finally, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a TED Talk a few years back called “The Danger of a Single Story” that has really stuck with me, and encapsulates the importance of my point here far more poignantly than I’ve managed to. If you have 20 minutes, I would highly, highly recommend checking it out.

What are your favorite ways to find media recommendations outside your norm? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

P.S. I am still locked out of my Instagram account, and am afraid I may need to start over on that front. Please continue to bear with me for the time being (and also hit me up if you have any solutions, as support hasn’t been able to help)!

(Photo is a free stock photo because the title is both a metaphor and quite literal.)

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How to survive building IKEA furniture

A rite of passage in emerging adulthood is the relationship (and independence) test of building IKEA furniture. Or navigating an unfamiliar city, or otherwise following directions and figuring stuff out. Over the weekend, my fiancé and I went to IKEA. As much fun as it is to wander the aisles, the critical part comes a ways after when you actually have to assemble the dang things.

The upside is that I both like, and am good at, building things. Like I have two fully stocked toolboxes and really miss high school woodshop. But one person being good at something does not make it a successful team effort. I’m really grateful that my fiancé and I don’t have a difficult time trusting each other and working together on a project like that, but we found it funny how many people joked (or half-joked) about the struggle of not only assembling IKEA furniture but doing it with their partner.

Here’s the thing. Being able to interpret and follow directions is a really crucial skill, and one that should be developed long before adulthood. But some people seem to let those skills slide as soon as the stakes get raised a little — even if that’s only building a bookcase or finding their way around a new place.

When I went to Europe last fall, I hadn’t been to any of the cities we visited before. My fiancé had, but it had been years. Neither of us is bad with directions, but we still get turned around now and then. But rather than freaking out over any possible wrong step or something taking longer than anticipated, we reasoned through it, listened to each other’s input, and didn’t put too much pressure on it. Sure, we accidentally took a couple of scenic routes in those cities, and I had to go back and fix how I installed a hinge on a piece of furniture this weekend when I thought I was nearly done.

The lesson here is simple, and applies to independence as well as teamwork. Be informed, think it through, and don’t take it too seriously — most mistakes can be fixed, and even if they can’t they can be laughed at and learned from. If you’re working with them, be sure to communicate a little extra, and extend a little grace to yourself and them.

I wish I was better at applying the lesson in other areas of my life, but for now at least I know I can build furniture. Comments? Questions? Sage life advice? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

 

P.S. Pro tip for building IKEA furniture: Have a few sizes of Philips and flathead screwdrivers, plus a hammer or small mallet before you start building. Read the instructions as carefully as possible before completing a step, and keep checking for that things look the way they’re supposed to along the way.

P.P.S. Pro tip for navigating new cities: PopOut Maps are seriously my best friend. They’re super useful with a couple of different views for each city, but small enough that you can 1) take them with you, and 2) use them without looking like a ridiculous tourist.

(Photo is a free stock photo because the aesthetic is nicer than random pieces of IKEA particle board.)

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Recipes: Mostly healthy breakfast cookies

I’m nothing if not honest, and honestly if it’s the kind of day where I have to be somewhere before 10 a.m. I do not want to put a lot of effort into my breakfast. I need breakfast desperately — unfortunately I am prone to both low blood sugar and being hangry when I don’t eat within about 7 minutes of realizing I’m hungry.

It’s also worth noting that for whatever reason, my body needs carb-heavy breakfasts. Eggs and bacon don’t do the trick for me unless I have toast as well. At my old job, we had a really convenient kitchen in the office, so when I got in, I would just make a quick breakfast. At first it was a bagel and cream cheese, then when I got on this health kick (somehow still mostly going), it switched to a grainy toast and almond butter.

But, umm, the kitchen at my new job is far from my desk and the appliances are used by a lot more people. So my old plan didn’t really work anymore. I tried breakfast before I left, and that didn’t go so well. While I reluctantly admit that I’m a morning person, I’m also task-oriented and constantly maneuvering plans and possible action paths. Which means I know that if my bed is cozy or I spend an extra couple minutes picking out clothes, I won’t have time to make breakfast and will end up eating a protein bar. Which, in a pinch, is fine. But is not good for a day-to-day routine.

A month or two back, for part of meatless Monday, my best friend made breakfast cookies. They were delicious, and more filling than I expected. So I decided to try out my own recipe. Please take the disclaimer that it is a work in progress, but it’s close enough that I’m ready to share it. Final disclaimer: I know this is a lot of ingredients, but the labor is so simple that it’s definitely worth it in my mind.

Ingredients:

  • about 2 1/4 cups rolled oats
  • 1-2 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp. flour (if you’re gluten-free, substitute with protein powder or another flour)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips*
  • 1/4 cup craisins*
  • 2-3 tbsp. chia seeds
  • 1 small container applesauce (4 oz.)
  • 1 egg (can use mashed banana for vegan option)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup nut butter (I use almond, but pick whatever you like)

* Substitute with mix-ins of your choice (seeds and dried fruit are especially great)IMG_8944

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients (aka everything listed before the applesauce).img_8945.jpg
  3. In a small/medium bowl, mix together all the wet ingredients.IMG_8946
  4. Once thoroughly mixed, blend the wet mixture into the bowl with dry ingredients.
  5. Use two spoons to form rounds on cookie sheet (you may need to use the spoons to encourage them to be, y’know, round).
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes.
  7. Enjoy! (They don’t need to be refrigerated, but do seal in an airtight container and consume within 1 week.)

IMG_8949

Cost about $5**, makes about 20 cookies (6-7 servings).

Easy enough, right? Right. Now, these cookies are still a little more crumbly than I’d like — I haven’t figured out the right trick to get them to stick together better after they bake. But they’re hearty, a little sweet, and remarkably low on sugar while still sneaking in some protein and other nutrients.

What I love most about these cookies is how easy they are. Breakfast can be an issue for a lot of emerging adults and adults in general. If you’re busy, you may not have time to make things or have the resources for popular healthy options. I make these about once a week, and then my breakfasts are handled. Plus I feel like I’m getting a little sweetness while also giving my body the energy it needs in the morning.

What are your favorite breakfast recipes? Let me know in a comment below, or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

**Please bear with me on the price estimate, it’s super rough. I buy most of it in bulk and already had a lot around the house. The most expensive part is probably the seeds or nut butter, but each amount of ingredient is pretty small so things last a while.

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Interviewing: The other side of the table

Sorry there was no post last week, but we’re back! Recently, I’ve been helping interview candidates at my job for a position very similar to mine (slightly more junior). I know, I know — how the turn tables.

And while I’ve already written on here about interviewing, that was from the perspective of someone being interviewed. Before this, I hadn’t been the person interviewing candidates in almost 2 years. In college, I interviewed dozens of people for almost as many positions when I was working with my student media organization. So today we’re going to tackle interviewing advice from the perspective of the person asking (most of) the questions.

Yes, your resume matters. Especially for a Millennial or Gen Z candidate, I expect not to see rookie mistakes. Other than including the most vital information, all the “rules” of resumes are technically just guidelines, but you need to have a darn good reason if you’re going to break them. That means:

  • Keep it to 1 page. Unless you have 8+ years of experience, you shouldn’t need more than that. Concision is a necessary skill for almost any job, so prove you have it.
  • For the love of all things holy, make it a PDF. Word docs are nice, but they are prone to formatting glitches, font issues, and accidental edits. You put a lot of work into your resume. Keep it crisp with the extra 3 seconds to save it as a PDF.
  • If you have a professional website or portfolio, definitely include the URL. Do NOT include personal blogs or non-professional websites. The people who are deciding whether or not to hire you do not need that info. (Pro tip: If you are including a website, make the URL as simple as possible. This is 2019. You don’t have to put “www.” or “https://” preceding the domain name.)
  • Don’t include a bunch of irrelevant info. It’s just more that I have to read, and lowers the chance that the relevant info will stick with me as well. Trim the education section down significantly after your first job out of college, and only include skills/experience pertinent to the job you’re applying for.

But if you make it to the interview, that matters more. I’ve seen resumes that, um, could use improvement and then been genuinely impressed by the person during the interview. The resume is how you get your foot in the door. The interview is where you get a chance to make an impression (and is almost always what people base hiring decisions on).

We’re just as nervous as you. Seriously. An HR person might have interviewed dozens of folks, but chances are most of the people across from you don’t enjoy the process any more than you do. I try really hard to put interviewees at ease, but just remember this isn’t anyone’s comfort zone.

We want to like you. Virtually no one goes into this with a bad attitude. Even if we weren’t keen on your resume or some other previous info, we want to be proved wrong. Interviewers would rather have a lot of great candidates for a position than just decent ones. Be friendly, be attentive, be professional. It goes a long way.

We know the questions are weird. Myself and my fiancé have been interviewing folks at our respective jobs recently, and since we aren’t too removed from the experience (especially the intense job hunt right after college), we try not to pepper candidates with questions we hate answering unless it’s necessary. Sometimes, it’s necessary. While I don’t really care about your greatest weakness, I will ask what drew you to the role and company just to see where your interests are — and often to check if you’ve done your research. Some organizations have lists of questions interviewers have to ask. Just roll with it and try to have a number of examples/answers that can apply to common questions.

There’s rarely a single right answer, but there are wrong answers. I have a decently extensive list of questions for the folks I’ve been interviewing (and I usually throw some more in on the fly). For some of them, I’m looking for a specific type of answer, but for a lot of them I’m just trying to get to know the candidate. Compose your answers in a way that honestly reflects your experience and personality while acknowledging (even if indirectly) what the interviewer is likely looking for in a candidate. There’s a lot of wiggle room, just be aware of how you’re presenting yourself.

Ask good questions. This is one of the easiest ways to set yourself apart from other candidates. When I’m interviewing people, this matters more than a good number of the questions I ask. If you ask thoughtful, insightful questions, I’ll remember you. And it will prove that:

  1. You’ve done your homework
  2. You’re truly interested
  3. You’ve got critical thinking skills.

Some good stock questions are things like what the day-to-day routine is like or what a person’s favorite part of working there is, but try to think of one or two that are highly specific to the role/company or otherwise out of the box. One of my favorites when being interviewed is to ask people what they wish I would have asked. One that endeared me to a candidate when interviewing them was about my preference on a highly contested (like to the point of being an inside joke) topic in my field.

Think about it as a date, not a test. When it comes down to it, this isn’t about simply checking boxes or passing a test (see above). Interviewers want to see if you’re the right fit for the company and the role, and you should be considering the same thing. If it’s not a place that would be good for you (and you aren’t in a situation in which you really need it), it might be best to consider other jobs. It’s about both parties assessing the chemistry and likelihood of a successful partnership. Make them want to swipe right.

Ultimately, breathe and do your best. You’ll be fine.

I hope that was helpful! If you have any interviewing advice (or questions), feel free to leave them in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because it would not be professional to post the inside of my office building.)

P.S. I am still locked out of Instagram (@ support, come thru), but all the recent posts will get updated on there as soon as I’m back in!

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On things that last forever

I got a tattoo last July. It’s small, personally meaningful, and I’d planned it for years. It felt like a bit of a big adult moment. And though I have no regrets, I have found surprised. It has often provided the reminder I needed, just as I intended it to. But a lot of things that hold a great deal of meaning for me (special words in particular) end of as sort of a timestamp — a bright, poignant reminder of the moment they were really what I needed to hear.

My tattoo isn’t like that. Maybe because it’s physically part of me, maybe because it’s only one word. But I think mostly because I’ve learned to hold the meaning behind it with an open hand.

“Hope” has long been my favorite word. Clichéd maybe. I don’t really care. It’s the only word that captures strength, acceptance, resolve, compassion, and resilience in any circumstance I find myself in. It’s four letters that fortify what I believe in and offer a hand when I don’t know what to believe.

I made a playlist recently that centers on a slightly different version of hope than the one I hold, but was still strongly influenced by my feelings around the word. As I was verifying it (I listen to all playlists once through before they’re final, to ensure they flow and hold together), I realized it’s got some sad and bittersweet songs on it. Even some of the happier ones are more about longing or commitment than overt happiness. I wondered if other people would also feel that those songs belonged on the playlist, and was a little surprised at how firmly I felt they did.

My idea of hope used to be more sunshine-and-butterflies optimism. Life, over time, has made me rely on a more complex understanding. If I was still clinging to a simpler definition or understanding, I would have lost more than missing out on the depth of meaning that I now find in the word. It’s also likely that circumstances that pushed the limits of what that narrower idea of hope covers might have made me feel like hope wasn’t enough, or wasn’t worth it.

But I’ve learned not to clutch my idea of it too tightly. Holding onto it steadily, but more gently, has allowed my understanding to grow, and has allowed me to grow and learn as well. Life isn’t simple, nor will it ever be — so it doesn’t make sense that the ideas we hold most dear should be terribly simple either. Simply beautiful, or simply awe-inspiring, perhaps. But simple doesn’t describe any of our universe very accurately, which means the best way for us to live and collaborate within that universe is to meet it where it’s at: complexity.

We can be both steady and ever-changing. We can be full of sadness and still embrace joy. We can offer grace and be just. We can be honest with our fears and still brave. We can disagree and still love. We can fail and not give up. We can not know and be confident. We can live in the tension. We can hope, whatever that looks like.

What’s a word or quote that has grown in meaning for you? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

P.S. I am still locked out of my Instagram account (@ support, where u at), but I promise all the recent posts will get updated on there once I’m back in!

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Deserve is not a dirty word

Ooh, this can be a touchy one. I don’t know what your thoughts (or perhaps more importantly, feelings) about the word “deserve” are, but mine are… complicated. Thankfully, my parents made sure I wasn’t allowed to grow up entitled, and they placed a lot more emphasis on ideas like “earn” than deserve. But I naturally have a strong sense of duty and an unhealthy bend toward perfectionism, which means sometimes I take that too far.

When I say perfectionism I don’t mean the annoying job interview thing where you say, “Oh, I just can’t stop until I’ve gotten things just right.” I mean the nagging, overthinking sort of perfectionism that sparks worry and thought spirals of everything that could go wrong if I don’t do literally everything perfectly. (If you’ve ever seen The Good Place, Chidi is a prime example.)

Add all that in to the negative messages society and companies are throwing at us all day long that we’re not good enough on our own, that we always need something, and it’s a bit of a mess. As a result, I let myself spend a lot of years thinking that if I said I “deserved” anything I was being selfish or arrogant.

But that’s simply not true. I deserve quite a lot of good things.

Of course, I don’t deserve every good thing under the sun. I can’t have anything I want period, let alone just because I want it. But there’s a lot of room between that level of entitlement and doubting I even deserve the space I take up or the love friends and family give. And it takes a developed sense of discernment to know where the line is, but it’s a really important part of being not just an adult, but an emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthy person.

I am just as prone to flaws and bad decisions as everyone else, even if they’re different ones. But I’m also just as capable of goodness and light and compassion. I’m just as worthy of love and respect. I deserve my space in this world. I deserve to matter, and to not feel guilty about that. I deserve to extend myself the same forgiveness and grace that I (try to) offer other people. I deserve to feel happy. I deserve to feel. I deserve to pay attention to what I need, and to take time to refill or reset. I deserve the effort it takes to live a good life. I deserve life.

I deserve good things.

Just saying that still feels awfully uncomfortable, but as part of a concerted effort to emphasize positive thinking and weaken negative thought patterns, it’s important.

This seems to be something younger generations are getting a bit better at, but especially as emerging adults life can sometimes get so chaotic that it starts to slip away. Hopefully for each of us, that can begin to be less.

One last thing to add: As important as it is to allow and embrace the good, honest, human things we deserve, it’s just as important to turn that outward. Every person you interact with, every life you encounter, also deserves their chance. It really just comes down to the Golden Rule, and the reminder that it goes both directions.

What message have you been trying to remind yourself of lately? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

P.S. Normally I like these topics to be more focused on you who are reading it, but the whole point of the exercise is that it’s okay to turn positive attention inward; so both to demonstrate and to practice, it seemed best to keep the post as-is, with its many uses of “I” and all.

P.P.S. Though by no means the first people to emphasize this, the guys from Queer Eye (which I’ve been watching lately along with everyone else) provided the reminder I needed recently, and I wanted to credit that.

(Photo is a free stock photo because I haven’t been up early enough to catch this in a while.)