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I do not belong in a magazine

Full disclosure: I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve cried this week, despite two prescriptions acne is a constant companion, I am somehow neither a morning person or a night person, I have a witheringly small social circle, procrastination is melded into my daily life, I can barely stay awake long enough to read the last few pages of a book I’ve been excited about for months, and it feels like the piles of things I should have under control is growing faster than I can scramble to keep up.

Of course, there are lots of good things: I’ve been excelling at work, my wedding is coming up soon, there have been small moments for time with friends, and despite all my worries enough gets done each day that I make it to the next one. At the end of the day I’m still here and the sun still rises.

But it’s still really hard not to fall into the trap of feeling like I’m falling apart while everyone else is killing it. Objectively, that’s a misunderstanding, but it’s still an exceptionally difficult thought patter to get out of. Blame it on social media, celebrities, psychology, whatever you want. It’s been a problem for a lot of people for a long time and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

I would love to offer some poignant, timely answers on how I avoid getting stuck thinking that everyone’s got it together and I’m the only one falling behind. I don’t really have them this week.

This week has been more about gathering what energy I’ve got left to do the small things that make me feel more like me, whether that’s reading a bit, a bite of dessert, listening to a song or podcast I really enjoy, or asking for a hug when I feel a bit on my own. It’s also being aware of my mental state, and when it would be better for me to set something down or walk away instead of letting whatever apparently-picture-perfect thing sell me on the idea that I’m the only one who’s missing out.

It’s not an answer, but it has to be enough for now. I’m not sure what your week has handed you, but I hope this offers a little solidarity whenever you find yourself needing it.

As always, comments and questions welcome below or on Twitter @ohgrowup. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

(Photo is a free stock image, because it’s a small, lovely thing growing in spite of it all.)

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When words are all we have for now

This last week, for me, has covered almost the full spectrum of joy and pain. It would feel disingenuous or disrespectful to focus on only the pain, or only the joy, of recent days. And I firmly believe that the only thing we can count on — the only thing I am sure life offers each of us — is the opportunity to know both, most often mixed together in a way that makes describing how we fully feel beyond the reach of everyday language.

The human condition seems to be that we harbor both love and hate, crave one but are drawn to the other, and that being a wildly social species we are both burdened and blessed to share that with others as well as have it shared with us.

I wish that as a kid, I had been given a better grasp on how shatteringly messy everything is. All the good and bad and kind-of-both are tied together, and that is the invisible, palpable truth we exist in. As an adult, I’m trying to not just acknowledge that, but make peace with it, while simultaneously working toward increasing the proportion of love in anything I share. Sometimes that love looks like joy, and sometimes it exists in pain.

When words fail, I tend to fall back on touch, hoping that it will say what I can’t seem to. But of course the medium of this blog makes a hand on your shoulder impossible, so we’re back to words. When words fail and they are still all I can offer, I fall back to poetry.

This poem* is one of my favorites, and holds the tension between the pain and the joy we’re faced with better than almost anything else I’ve encountered:

 

“On Kindness” by Aracelis Girmay

        after Nazim Hikmet, for & after Rassan

 

At the Detroit Metro Airport

with the turtle-hours to spare

between now & my flight, there is

such a thing as the kindness

of the conveyor belt who lends me

its slow, strange mollusk foot

as I stand quiet, exhausted, having been

alone in my bed for days now, sleeping

in hotels, having spent months, now,

without seeing the faces of my family, somehow

its slow & quiet carrying of the load

reminds me of the kindness of donkeys

& this kindness returns me to myself.

It reminds me of the kindness of other things I love

like the kindness of sisters who send mail,

wherever you are, &, speaking of mail, there is

the special kindness of the mail lady

who says, “Hi, baby” to everyone, at first

I thought it was just me, but now I know

she says “Hi, baby” to everyone. That is kindness.

Too, there is the kindness of windows, & of dogs.

& then there was that extraordinary Sunday

back at the house, I heard a woman screaming

about how she was lonely & so lonely

she didn’t know what she’d do, maybe kill

herself, she said, over & over like a parrot

in a cage, a parrot whose human parent

only taught it that one sentence. I looked out

the window & saw her from behind, the way she flung

her arms like she was desperate & being killed

or eaten by an invisible predator, like a tiger or a lion, in the chest.

& her voice seemed fogged out with methadone, I don’t know,

something, & I walked away from the window

& sat, angry with her for screaming, & sad,

& not long after, I heard her saying,

What’d you say? What’d you say to me?

& a man’s voice, low, I could not tell if it was kind.

& she said, I’ll kill myself, I’m so lonely.

& did I tell you, yet, that it was Mother’s Day?

Flowers & mothers, flowers & mothers all day long.

& the woman saying, I’m so lonely. I could kill myself.

& then quiet. & the man’s voice saying, It’s okay.

It’s okay. I love you, it’s okay.

 

& this made me get up, put my face, again, to the window

to see my landlord’s nephew outside, just hugging her so, as if

it were his mother, I mean, as if he belonged to her,

& then, again, quiet, I left the window but sat

in the silence of the house, hidden by shutters, & was amazed.

When the front door of the brownstone opened up

& let the tall nephew in with his sad & cougar eyes,

handsome & tall in his Carolina-Brooklyn swagger, I heard

him start to climb the stairs above me, & my own hand

opened up my own front door,

& though it was none of my business

I asked him, Do you know that women out there?

& do you know what happened next?

He said, No. The nephew said no, he didn’t know

the woman out there. & he told me Happy Mother’s Day

as he climbed the rest of the stairs. & I can’t stop seeing them

hugging on the street, under trees, it was spring, but cold,

& sometimes in the memory his head is touching hers

& sometimes in the memory his eyes are closed,

& sometimes she is holding him

& singing to him I love you. It’s okay.

I mean to tell you that everywhere I go

I hear us singing to each other. This way. I mean to tell you

that I have witnessed such great kindness as this,

in this, my true life, you must believe me.

I mean, on a Sunday, when nobody was supposed to be

watching. Nobody at all. I saw this happen, the two

of them hugging, when nobody was supposed to be

watching, but not a secret either, public

as the street, not for glory & not for a joke,

the landlord’s nephew ready to stand there for the woman

like a brother or a sister or a husband or son,

or none of these at all, but a stranger,

a stranger, who like her, is an earthling.

Perhaps this thing I am calling kindness

is more simple than kindness, rather, recognition

of the neighbor & the blue, shared earth

& the common circumstance of being here:

what remains living of the last

two million, impossible years…

 

Hopefully today we can help each other be a little more human, and find peace in that. For more thoughts like this or a bunch that aren’t, leave a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting.

 

* Note that this poem is “On Kindness”, from KINGDOM ANIMALIA by Aracelis Girmay, copyright © 2011 by Aracelis Girmay. I don’t own or have any rights to the poem, but first discovered it via The Slowdown.

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(Being good at) solo travel

Last weekend I was up in the Portland area for a dear friend’s wedding, and got the chance to spend the better part of two days exploring a city I’d never been to before. The more that I saw and did, the more I thought about how grateful I am that I know how to travel alone.

There are, of course, some caveats. Being female, I have to be more careful and conscientious of potential safety risks than men often need to be, and that does tamper some of the brazenly adventurous spirit that I sometimes slip into. I’ve also done almost all of my solo travel in cities for the simple reason that there is lots to see in a small radius, and it’s easier to get around by oneself with fewer resources. My hometown necessitates a car; my favorite cities do not. Lastly, as much as I love traveling alone I don’t always prefer it — nothing can replace the joy of sharing new experiences with other people.

However, I am super glad that I’ve learned how to enjoy independent travel. Some of it is inherent to my personality. I’m pretty introverted, and actually like being anonymous in a big crowd. I am sometimes fiercely independent, and it gives me a joyous opportunity to report to no one and do, basically, whatever I want. Sometimes I’ve traveled alone for the simple reason of not letting other people stop me from seeing things I wanted to see. My parents also did a phenomenal job setting me up to travel well, from teaching me the right balance of enjoying being a tourist to paying attention to the locals, showing me how to make good use of public transportation, and reminding me that there’s always more to explore.

But not everyone has had the same opportunities. I started flying alone at 16, and started exploring cities on my own at 18. But I’ve only recently realized that it’s a skill not as many emerging adults have as I’d previously thought.

So here are some of the things that have helped me the most when traveling solo. (Note that I’m going to skip most general safety measures because most of us have had it drilled into our heads and that’s not where the adventure lies, but of course, prioritize your safety at all times.)

Figure out your tech. When I was in Portland this weekend, Google Maps was my best friend. But I didn’t want to use the data when I was in London, so I had a super handy pocket map of the city that I used to navigate me basically anywhere I needed to go. In Washington, DC, it was a mix of both. I always keep a portable charger (and often my phone charger) with me if I’m going to be out for a whole day. Your tech can be next-gen or analog, just make sure whatever you have will serve your purposes.

Find your ride. This becomes pretty city-specific, but look into what the transportation options are in any city you go to. My best friend gave me a heads up that Portland’s bus system is really convenient, and it cut my transportation costs within the city to $10.50 over 2 days (yes, you read that right). I’m really used to subways and trains, and you can always grab a cab or Lyft if needed.

That being said, you will see more if you walk. I love my mom. She’s great. But she also made me walk miles of San Francisco hills at a young age. Like I didn’t even know you could get a cab easily amount of walking. Now, if I’m exploring a place by myself I have no problem walking 5 to 7 miles in a day. Maybe that means building up your stamina before you go, maybe it means knowing when to walk and when to catch a ride. Most of the time, my rule of thumb is to walk if it’s less than a mile between destinations unless I’m on a time crunch.

Ask for recs. You will be by yourself, and yes the internet is helpful, but ask some friends or family for some of their favorite things to do/see/eat in the place you’ll be going to. I only found out about one of my favorite stops in Athens because I’d asked an old friend for stuff she loved in the city (the Benaki Museum, in case you were wondering). My friends who got married this weekend put a ton of cool stuff on their website that I was able to use to guide my trip planning. People know good stuff — pick their brains for it.

Pick out some must-sees. I tend to center solo trips on one or two things that I can’t miss. In LA, it was a killer Cuban restaurant and Griffith Observatory, both of which I’d been meaning to go to for ages. DC was the National Archives and Air & Space Museum. Portland was Powell’s Books and Washington Park. This provides a few benefits. One, you get to actually make time for the things you’re most excited about. Two, it provides geographical touchpoints that you can plan the rest of your travel around. Knowing that I wanted to see those two things in Portland meant that I not only planned out transportation between them, but that I focused my research on other experiences (mostly food, if we’re being honest) to close by those high-priority items.

Do your research. Things I always research ahead of time: transportation (and where I’m staying if that isn’t already handled), must-sees, some good restaurants, and often a short list of other items of interest. I might not use all of it, but then I have the info and I don’t get overwhelmed by the newness of everything at once. I also tend to save info either as emails to myself or notes on my phone, but do whatever system works best for you.

And know when to not have a plan. This is one of my favorite things about traveling, because while in most of life I hate not having a plan, when traveling it can add to the adventure. Of course the broad strokes are planned, but I make sure to leave room for detours, and lately have started building in time — often toward the end of a trip — that is quite literally meant for whatever I didn’t already get to do. If I actually did everything I wanted, I allow myself to visit a place again or even take a nap. The point is giving yourself the freedom to take your time and not be stuck in a strict schedule.

Bonus tips:

  • Ride public transportation like a local. Stay on the quieter side, bring a book, know your stop, and for goodness sake hold on. And of course, feel free to ask if you do need directions.
  • Have cash and card. A lot of cool, hole-in-the-wall places only take or prefer cash, and some places are now moving to card-only. Be prepared.
  • Tell someone you trust where you are. This is the one safety tip I will give, because it probably gives me the most reassurance. When traveling alone, I make sure someone knows my plan for the day, and periodically check in with where I am. Usually that just means sending a picture of something cool, but it’s also for safety.
  • Store your bag. I just found out about this one during my last trip, but if you’re not staying in a hotel you can store your bag for a while through services like Bagbnb (the one I used) or Vertoe for like $6 a day. If you’re staying at a hotel, they’ll usually hold your bag before and after you check out if you ask (it is best to leave a tip). If you’re really in a pickle and not staying at a hotel, you can always ask if they’ll store your bag, and offer a really good tip.
  • Balance paid with free, or at least inexpensive. I am not made of money. Most emerging adults aren’t. And the thing about solo travel is you can’t split the cost with friends. This doesn’t mean you have to avoid paid stuff — and you’ll have to pay to eat — but for every paid thing you do, have a couple options of free things as well. Last Sunday I spent half a day checking out tons of stuff in Washington Park, and only spent money on one entrance fee (to the Japanese Garden, which is absolutely worth it). Plus a lot of the best places to eat aren’t expensive!

What are your favorite solo travel tips? Hidden gems in cities you’ve been to? Let me know in a comment below, or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

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How to train yourself out of a short attention span

I don’t usually go for such clickbaity titles, but it seems like this skill is something we could all use a little more of. I know that both at work and at home, I’ve had noticeable trouble paying attention to just one thing for any significant length of time, and that the problem has gotten worse as I’ve shifted into emerging adulthood.

Not that I had some insanely impressive attention span as a kid, but if it was something that mattered (either directly or indirectly), I could usually gather up the will to focus on it until it was done or I judged it time to move onto something else. (Note that this wasn’t always the case early on in project deadlines, but procrastination is a whole other issue.)

In college, it was a little tougher, in part because there were so many things to be juggling and my schedule was constantly shifting not just between semesters, but from day to day and week to week. So I often brushed off any problems focusing with being tired or lacking routine, and I assumed it would get easier once I had some steadiness post-college. Of course, life circumstances that could be called steady took a while to achieve — like a lot of recent grads, I moved back home and worked part-time. Then I moved to a new area with a new job. Then I changed jobs and moved again. Whew.

I’ve been in my new jobs and new digs for several months now, but I still find myself often struggling to focus for long stretches of time, or even to devote myself entirely to a single task for a shorter amount of time. And frankly, it’s annoying as heck.

So what to do about it?

First things first, I had to stop making excuses. Sometimes I really am tired or the thing I’m working on is just super boring, and that genuinely is the main cause of my inattention. But that’s rarely the whole reason. And that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be taking steps to address it. (Super important note there that while all the stuff I mention below can help, prolonged or increasing issues with focus may be part of another issue like ADD or ADHD. If you think that might be you, definitely talk to a doctor and/or psychriatrist.)

Give yourself breaks, but make sure they’re structured. I have a bad habit of looking at my phone whenever I reach a pause in concentration, and guess what? It literally makes my problem worse. One recommendation is to use the 25-5 approach, where you work for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break (the times can be adjusted based on personal need, but this number seems to work well for a lot of people). The trick is confining breaks to that time, and then when it’s time for a break fully embracing the distraction.

Get off your phone. I absolutely hate being told to do this, most connective electronics (phones, computers) are quite literally filled with stuff meant to distract us from whatever else we’re doing. The internet is never-ending, and social media and video games offer little dopamine hits every time we use them, which then trains our brains to want more, and it becomes harder to stay away from them when we should be focusing on something else. I often put my phone face down out of arm’s reach (and my line of sight), or even on do not disturb, to make it feel less easily accessible. I also have all notifications that aren’t text, calls, or email turned off.

Stop multitasking. Unless I’m doing something truly mindless, I’ve been trying to avoid multitasking. As much as we like to boast about it, humans actually aren’t that great at multitasking precisely because our divided attention means we often miss crucial elements of one or both tasks. So I might listen to a podcast doing simple edits on a document, or plan the grocery list while I drive home, but once it’s time to pay attention I just go one thing at a time.

Pay attention to your body. If you’re hungry, thirsty, exhausted, or even the wrong temperature, focusing is naturally going to be more of a challenge. Make sure you have snacks and water available, and adjust your temperature surroundings if you can. I find all of these help me feel less tired, but if I’m truly falling asleep at my computer I’ll use my short break mentioned above (I actually do 7-9 minutes in this case) for a power nap.

Find a change of scenery. Often when I’m struggling to focus, moving to a different spot in the office or my house will reset whatever was stuck in my brain, and then I don’t move from that spot (or at least back to my original spot) until the task is done.

On that note, just move around. A couple minutes of walking or a few quick stretches can settle your body enough to focus more readily on a non-physical task. Exercising daily or at least a couple times a week also seems to be linked to better focus long-term.

Alternate the types of tasks you’re doing. I find that I feel bored less readily if the kinds of things I’m doing don’t all feel the same. For example, at home I’ll sit down to do the budget, then get up and clean the kitchen, alternating mental/stationary and more physical chores so it feels kind of like I’m getting a break even when it’s just to do another task.

Read a dang book. Or a long internet article. Or listen to an audiobook. I am fully aware that I have preached the virtues of reading many a time on this blog, and I am not sorry. One of the things that finally motivated me to work on my attention span is the fact I couldn’t get through even a chapter of a book in one sitting, let alone huge chunks like I used to. I’ve been extra intentional about making time to read lately, and I’ve noticed a correlation with my (slightly) improved focus.

Meditate. I am awful at being consistent about this, but meditation has been demonstrated to significantly help concentration. I have an app called Headspace that I like a lot for short meditations, and one of the podcasts I love releases semi-regular meditations as well. But you can also find lots of free options that offer everything from 1-minute to hour-plus meditations.

Sometimes, it’s also okay to just admit that you’re having a tough time focusing, and not be hard on yourself for it. We’ve all got a lot going on, and the world we live in doesn’t make it any easier to slow down and just pay attention to one thing.

What has helped you focus better? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo honestly because that’s all I had time for.)

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It’s the little things

Yesterday was a bad morning. I killed a plant and two more are sick, and that opened a door to a deluge of thoughts biting at my ankles and draining my carefully gathered positivity.

But that night — despite the day’s challenges and the dark corners in my head — I felt the best I had in a little while. Not just enjoying myself, but content with myself as I am. There was no dramatic moment behind the change. My plant is still dead and my to-do list is somehow longer. The shift came in small moments, when I opened myself up to the little things that make me feel connected to the world.

I watched the orange light on the hills as I drove past. I looked up to see planes landing and taking off just over my head. I played the music really loud. I went to my favorite yoga studio with my best friend. I bought dessert afterward at the grocery store. I sat down with a heavy blanket and finished a book, even though I (as always) have lots to do.

This isn’t meant to be some pithy call for “self-care,” at least the way it’s popularly understood. A lot of those those things were previously planned or even outside my control. The different was that I stopped clinging so desperately to my own thought patterns and actually let myself have space to enjoy those moments.

Today is my first day without plans in I actually couldn’t tell you how long. And I finally feel ready to enjoy it.

So enjoy your day. (If you’re from the U.S., have a responsible Fourth.) If you want, share a favorite little thing that makes you feel content in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup. And as always, thanks for reading and happy adulting!

(Picture credit goes to my mom, for finding the best in every city.)

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Welcome to wherever you are

Ooh buddy, it has been a time recently. For starters, the disclaimer that this post will be more about sharing some of the challenges that emerging adulthood has thrown my way recently, a lot of which I don’t have a perfect answer or even adequate advice for. But I started this blog because I was frustrated by so few people talking about how difficult it can be, and I’m committed to doing just that.

Despite all the wonderful things going on in my life (like I’m marrying my favorite person in 3 months!), there have been a lot of negative thoughts floating around in my head.

Some of it comes from external situations, most recently the horrors of human rights abuses happening around the world, including at the U.S. southern border. I’m doing what I can to help correct and prevent the suffering of others, but my heart still breaks.

I’m also just plain exhausted, and no amount of sleep seems to fix it (though more sleep does make it less worse, in those exact words). I feel like I’m at the end of my rope once or more each week, and am starting to wonder if that’s the new normal.

Work is steady and I love my new apartment and wedding planning is going well, but I still don’t feel settled. Not that, to be honest, I have felt that way in a long time, if ever. There is always a big turn or change coming, and mental rest has been sparse.

I don’t know when or if things will start to feel settled, or when I will feel rested. Maybe once I finally hang up the last picture in the apartment, or after the wedding, or when it’s been a year at my job. Maybe never.

So I am trying — with mixed success — to find peaceful moments in the present, no matter how tumultuous it feels. I’m rewatching my favorite TV show, making time to visit with friends, reading and listening to podcasts, and also just going through the routine of normal life. When I get overwhelmed I talk to my fiancé or pray or meditate, or if I can’t handle any of those just breath in and out as steadily as possible.

I know I’m in a way better spot than this time last year, and I know that I still have a lot of room to grow. There’s a lot I’ve accomplished, a lot I still want to do, and even more that I have no idea about. And I guess when it comes down to it, that rings true for most of us.

Adulthood — especially emerging adulthood — is messy and challenging and wonderful and difficult. But we’re in it. So hopefully, together, we can figure out how to make the best of it.

Let me know your thoughts in a comment below, or on Twitter @ohgrowup. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting.

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Beat the heat

I live in California, and in case you don’t live here (and haven’t been hearing us complain), it’s been rather warm lately.

I’m not stranger to hot temps — like my high school graduation legit got cancelled halfway through because it was too hot — but that doesn’t mean I like it. I’m also prone to heat stroke, so staying cool has higher stakes than avoiding sweat stains.

On a hot day in my old apartment, we’d just turn on the A/C to a manageable (read: affordable) temperature, and hope for the best. But my new place doesn’t have A/C, so I was a little nervous going into this heat wave. A bit of luck: My place is downstairs and really well-insulated, so it has a few advantages in terms of staying cool.

But emerging adulthood is about learning to take care of ourselves, often without all the resources we had growing up. So just in case you’re stuck in a summer heat wave, here are the things I’ve found most helpful when it comes to avoiding high temps.

Indooooooors (cue SpongeBob meme):

  • Close all your blinds, and keep them that way while the sun’s out. This isn’t my favorite if the weather’s nice because I don’t want to feel like I’m in a cave, but sunlight streaming in through windows is the fastest way to heat up a home, and makes it hard to get it cool again.
  • At night, open up. As soon as the temp outside drops below what it’s at inside, open up windows and shoot for a cross-breeze (if it’s stuffy in your place you can also open up when it’s a couple degrees warmer outside — the fresh air will be more noticeable than those few degrees). If it’s safe, you can leave the windows open overnight and close them as soon as you wake up.
  • Level up your fan. Fans are great, we know this. But if you don’t have A/C and are truly desperate, go to the store and buy a solid block of ice for a few bucks (or make one if your freezer has space). Plop it in a small plastic tub and put it in front of the fan. Hello, homemade A/C.
  • Turn off stuff that heats up the air. Logical, I know. But avoiding hot showers, running the oven, or even too much tech can help keep indoor temps from rising too quickly.

Outdoors:

  • That same fan thing, if you’ve got an outlet. Seriously, don’t knock it. (Misters are also great!)
  • Spend as much time in the shade as you do in the sun. And try to alternate time in shade vs. sun, as well as moving vs. being more still.
  • Wear loose clothes and light colors. They absorb less light, and touch you less. Cool? Cool.
  • Go swimming. But you knew this one.
  • Or you could just, y’know, go inside.

Your body is a heat source:

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. This is seriously the best way to avoid heat stroke and generally overheating. If you can hack it, go for cool water instead of cold because then your body won’t expend energy heating it up (and therefore heating you up).
  • Sit down. Not kidding. Even the energy that your body spends balancing, tensing muscles, etc. when you’re standing up is not helping the situation. And if you’re at all overheated, feeling lightheaded, or sick, sit immediately and tell a friend. More info on that here.
  • Splash water. Note that doing this on your face, neck, wrists, and ankles will be especially cooling as the water evaporates and air moves over your skin.
  • If you can’t minimize clothing, get your clothes wet. Obviously only some circumstances allow for this, but it will help cool you off so quickly, especially since most clothes dry much more slowly than we do.

How do you keep the summer heat at bay? Let me know in a comment below, or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because I am not going outside right now to get that pic.)