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A Change Is As Good As A Break! 17 Little Things You Can Switch Around To Make Life More Interesting

little life changes

 

“Hey, hi! I like your haircut! I bet you want the Bun Chai with fried tofu and extra noodles, right? And hold the bean sprouts and basil, hmm? I’ll set aside a takeaway box for you right now because I know how you are, girl!”
This is the exchange that happens every time I go to Trieu Chau (which is, um, probably more than is healthy.) For as much traveling and new-stuff-trying as I do, I am deeply, dorkily a creature of habit.
I’ve been using up and repurchasing the same jeans and lipstick for two years now.
I literally buy these in bulk.
I’ve been running (re: trudging at a slightly-faster-than-average-pace) the same set of stairs for aaaages.
And even though I’ve worked really hard to create this no-boss, work-from-anywhere life, I find myself wearing a rut into my days, doing the same (perfectly nice) things over and over and over.
So lately, I’ve been making a really concious effort to change things up. Many of the changes I’ve been making are laughably small. Ordering something different at Trieu Chau. Working from a different public library. VENTURING INTO AN EXCITING NEW WORLD OF MEAT ALTERNATIVES.
These changes are hardly earth shattering but they’re slowly adding up to a daily life that I’m more excited about and engaged in than ever.
With that in mind, here are 17 tiny little swap outs + changes you could try in your daily life. Really and truly, a change is as good as break!
1. Order a new hot beverage
Let’s talk tea. Or cider. Or an Americano. I’ve been surprising my barista every time I order something other than ‘a large cup of light roast for here.’
2. Buy a Groupon for a new restaurant in your neighborhood and order something you’ve never had
I frequent the same three restaurants in my neighborhood week after week. Why not pop over to Groupon, type in that zip code and buy the cheapest option you can find. You’ll keep money in your neighborhood, support a small business, and maybe find your new favorite hang out. (Earn good karma points by writing a positive review if you loved it!)
3. Construct an outfit around one of your closet orphans
You know what I’m talking about. Those cute pieces you never wear, gathering wrinkles at the back of your closet. Move them to the front and create an outfit around ‘em. And if you still don’t like them? Set aside a few hours for a closet purge.
4. House swap with friends for the weekend
I house swapped with a friend in L.A. a few years ago and it was woooonderful! But you can swap with a friend somewhere a lot closer to home. It’s fun spend the weekend anywhere new – even if it’s just an hour and a half away! See if any of your Facebook friend are keen to switch homes for a long weekend and then get to know a new city.
5. Take a different route (or type of transportation) to work
What if you took side streets instead of the highway? What if you took the train or the bus? Or your bike? You’ll meet new people and see new parts of your city from the back of bike or a train.
6. Try out a new hairstyle
I’ve pretty much go two hairstyles – Kardashian-y and straight. But when I wear it twisted up and around? Or with a scarf? Or a hat? I feel like a totally different person.
7. Ask your boss if you can come in/leave early or vice versa
If you’re accustomed to a 5:50 am alarm or finishing work at 7 pm, life feels totally different when your workday leans to the left by a few hours. See if your boss is willing to switch your hours around for a week and then enjoy the luxury of sleeping in or finishing work by 3:30.
8. Take a new class at your gym
Of course (of course!) I’m all about Zumba and Hip Hop classes. But I’m working up the nerve to try a spin class (terrifying!) or something involving kettlebells. Join me?
9. Read a magazine about a topic you know nothing about
Reading an entire book on a topic you know nothing about is a bit of an undertaking, but a magazine? You can do that. Knitting! Cats! Woodworking!
10. Go to open mic night
They’re free, fascinating, and a great way to support independent coffee shops/bars/cafes and artists. Most cities have multiple open mics every night – in Minneapolis, the Acme Comedy open mic night is awesome/hilarious/horrible/scary.
11. Listen to a new radio station 
Guys, I have recently become The Sort Of Person WHO LISTENS TO JAZZ. What?! 99% of the time I toggle between this hipster station and Top 40 foolishness but after hearing the same 10 songs on both stations I happened upon 88.5. Just this one little change has made my drives calmer and exponentially more mellow. What would happen if you changed the media you consumed? What if you navigated away from drive time djs who make sexist comments and use sound effects?
12. Switch your part
Allofasudden my hair is full of body and my scalp is all “What are you even doing?!”
13. Swap out your bedding for something totally different
My BFF introduced me to The Wonder That Is Patterned Sheets. And then if you use different, but coordinating patterns? It’s like you’re tucking yourself into a design book. Of course, sheets can be expensive so I’m a big fan of thrifting them. (Yes, I know some people find that vaguely disgusting but have you ever stayed in a hotel? Then you’ve slept on sheets that other people have slept on.)
14. Go to an international grocery store and buy a bunch of things you’ve never tried
One of my go-to brunch tricks is to bring ‘adventure fruit salad.’ I head to Sun Foods, buy all the fruit I can’t identify (and a few things I know everyone loves) cut it all up and toss it in a bowl. If you live in the Twin Cities, check out Cosetta’s Italian Market, Sun Foods, Awash Market, or Ikea’s market for Scandinavian treats.
15. Wear a new shade of nail polish, a new color of eyeliner, a new shade of lipstick
Did you know that purple eyeliner looks really lovely with brown eyes? Or that black nail polish can look professional? And I’m pretty sure that this lipstick will help me accomplish that coveted Who Me I’m Not Wearing Lipstick I’m Just Naturally Beautiful look.
16. Sit with someone you don’t know at lunch
Does every lunch break involve your work BFF and the same table by the window? What if you sat with Megan from accounting? Or Brandon from marketing? You might make a new buddy or get to sample those cupcakes Brandon’s always mowing.
17. Rent a car that’s totally unlike yours for the weekend
Slightly extravagant? Yes. Totally fun? Also yes. If you’re a minivan driver, experience the wonder of a zippy little Mini for the weekend. Rent a convertible for a weekend of leaf-ogling. Rent something with four-wheel drive and explore dirt roads. (Hotwire and AAA are great for car rental discounts!)
How do you get out of a rut? What little changes would you add to this list?

photo by Rafael Croffi // cc

New Things: Sleep In A Yurt

Each year on my birthday, I make a list of new things I want to try. Some are hard, some are easy and shockingly mundane. You can read about previous new things here.

Guys, I’ve reached that point in my life where I’m (slightly) less interested in sleeping on the ground.

Maybe I’m getting old or maybe I’m getting fancy, but the thought of zipping myself into a tent and sleeping on an air mattress is slowly beginning to lose its appeal. I’m not saying I’ll never camp again … but I am saying that I’d like 1:1 ratio of nights in a tent to nights at an Airbnb.That being said, I’m not quite ready to start dropping $300 a night on hotels or only staying at Best Westerns out by the airport. I want something one step up from a tent but still outdoorsy enough that I’ll return home pleasantly dirty and smelling slightly of woodsmoke and bugspray.


Where is this hallowed middle ground, friends? Where can I sleep in a bed but still get that self-congratulatory feeling of being all Paul Bunyon-y? 


Yurts, guys. Yurts are the answer to this age old question.


And what, pray tell, is a yurt? As defined by Wikipedia it’s a “a portable, bent dwelling structure traditionally used by nomads in the steppes of Central Asia as their home.” So basically – fancier than a tent, less fancy than a cabin.


In a word: perfect.

Here’s a True/False quiz to help you figure out if you should stay in a yurt: 

1. T/F Breakfasts taste best when prepared on a super old fashioned gas stove.2. T/F The lighting from Coleman lanterns is both flattering and nicely scented.

3. T/F Sleeping in a queen-sized sleeping bag on a futon with my partner is both fun and romantic!

4. T/F A total lack of cell phone signal, gps, and internet is awesome and freeing! No, this doesn’t not need to be Instagrammed!

5. T/F Seeing a mother moose on your half-mile walk back to where you parked the car is a great way to start the day.

6. T/F It’s pretty nice to have a little lake all to yourself.

7. T/F I enjoy boiling water to wash my dishes!

8. T/F Outhouses are grreeeat!

9. T/F Mosquitos and wood ticks are no big deal. Complaining is for wussies.

10. T/F Falling asleep to the sound of rain, 20 miles from the nearest town is lovely.

Did you answer true to most of these statements?  Then you should probably rent a yurt in northern Minnesota.

Have you ever stayed in a yurt? How do you feel about camping? 

P.S. 8 awesome things to cook over a campfire and How to be a happy, laidback traveler.

New Things: Take An Overnight Train Ride

Each year I make a list of new things I want to try. Some of shockingly mundane, some are quite challenging (to me, at least). You can read about past adventures here.

 

I’m one of those insufferable people who thinks train travel is ‘magical’.
Yes, I watched The Darjeeling Limited, like, eight times.
Yes, I want to take the Trans-siberian.
Yes, I once had a very unpleasant food-poisoning experience on a train in India (but that hasn’t changed my feelings one bit).
So when I popped out to LA for a spontaneous meet up with Alex, it made ‘perfect sense’ that I end my trip with a 23-hour train ride to Portland. Was there any particular reason for me to go to Portland? No.
Unless by ‘reason’ you mean ‘want to.’
The Coast Starlight Train is a particularly well-equipped, nicely-maintained Amtrak train that runs daily from L.A. to Seattle. For $114 I got a one-way ticket from L.A. to Portland and the honor of sleeping in a (large, reclining, lots-of-leg-space-having) chair.

 

And, yes, at the risk of being predictable, it was fairly magical.


It’s lovely to slip through parts of the city that are far from the freeway, peering into people’s backyards, watching men take smoke breaks outside a factory, watching as the graffiti turns into suburbs. I loved passing through little farming towns at sunset, imagining what it would be like to grow up there and clickity clacking through super remote parts of Cascade mountains, while eating a black bean burger in the dining car and chatting with a nice couple from London.

 

Because the main intention of my trip was getting everything I needed into a carry-on and wearing L.A.-worthy clothes, I was not, perhaps, as prepared for my train adventure as I could have been. Be ye not so stupid as me.
Tips to make your train trip (even more) awesome
1. Bring a pillow and blanket
Sleeper cars are car-razy expensive and the seats on Amtrak are reasonably comfortable. However, you’re not going to receive one of those sweet little packs that airlines sometimes hand out. So bring your best real-sized pillow, a fleece blanket, an eye mask, and ear plugs.
2. Pack a picnic
You can buy your meals on the train and you should buy at least one – it’s fun! But the quality of the meal for the price is a bit ‘meh.’ Over the course of 23 hours I had one real meal and a lot of Doritos and yogurt. Not my best work. So pack a bag of fruits, vegetables, and healthy snacks.
3. Put your ever-loving phone away
Amtrak famously does not have wifi but if you’ve got a data plan, you can access the web on the less-remote parts of the trip. But how about you don’t? That’s not what we’re here for.
4. Make friends!
I had some great conversations on my trip and met a pile of fascinating people. A 24-year-old WWOOFer (we discussed OKCupid at length), a pair of elderly British sisters, an 11-year-old boy who was visiting his mom for the summer, a 50-something couple who worked in education. When you eat in the dining car, you’ll be seated with strangers and, weird as it sounds, IT IS SO FUN.
5. Try to sit with another lady
If you’re traveling by yourself, know that there is no dividing armrest between the seats and come night time, it’s a bit awkward to be sleeping so close to an unknown dude. When I first boarded the train, I was seated next to a guy who was also going all the way to Portland. When the conductor took our tickets and realized we weren’t traveling together, she swapped our seats so I could sit next to another woman, which I really appreciated.
6. Dress and pack appropriately
If I’d been more on top of my game, I would have worn my go-to travel outfit (ballet flats, leggings, knit skirt, t-shirt, cardigan, big scarf) and packed my favorite travel stuff (makeup wipes, podcasts, book). Instead, I slept in jeans, wearing makeup. Gross. But you’re smarter than that, right?
Have you ever taken a really long train trip? Where? And share your train-specific travel tips with us!

My phone camera doesn’t quite capture the beauty of this stuff so I pulled some creative commons photos by (much more) talented photographers who have taken the same trip. Loco Steve // Rennett Stowe 

New Things: Swim With A Manatee

Every year I make a list of new things I want to try.  Some of them are easy, some are hard, some are shockingly mundane.  You can read about past shenanigans here.

Here is my list of favorite animals:
1. Otters
2. Prairie dogs
3. Manatees
(Cats aren’t on this list because they’re not so much a ‘favorite animal’ as an ‘overarching theme in my life/family member’.)

And once I discovered the Calming Manatee meme, it was all over. Life pretty much became a hunt for opportunities to encounter a cow of the sea and maaaaaybe touch his sweet whiskery face if he’d let me.  So when I started planning a trip to Mexico and discovered Xel-ha and their manatee swimming offerings – well, there were lots of emails written in all caps.Let us a take a moment to acknowledge that interacting with non-domesticated animals is not totally unproblematic. Swimming with a clever mammal who was raised in the wild and now lives in a swimming pool isn’t very nice, is it? So I spent a bit of time researching Xel-ha was relieved to discover that their manatees were rescues (or born in captivity from their rescued parents) and are part of research program about endangered animals in captivity. Of slightly less importance: THEIR NAMES ARE PUG NOSE AND LITTLE BEAN.

A list of awesome things about this experience:

* Learning that their names are Pug Nose and Little Bean (this bears repeating)
* Learning about their favorite foods and then feeding Little Bean broccoli and apples and feeling his sweet whiskery mouth on my hand
* Just generally looking at his little teddy bear face and imagining him saying calming things to me
* Shaking flippers with him
* Watching his little nose sniff at the surface of the water
* Patting his soft, algae covered back
* Swimming in his general vicinity and feeling zen and joyful.

In April, my dude and I are heading to Tampa for a conference and mermaids and we’re also hoping to kayak the Weeki Wachee river and see even mooooore manatees. Though I imagine those manatees won’t be named Little Bean.

Have you ever swum with manatees or anything interesting animal?  I’m bummed I missed swimming with dolphins in open water when I lived in New Zealand!


New Things: Swim In A Cenote

Each year I make a list of new things I want to try. Some are easy, some are difficult, some are so mundane you’ll think “Have you been living under a rock, Von Bargen?”  You can read about past adventures here.

Growing up on a lake in Minnesota, I spent approximately *90% of my childhood in the water. I canoed out to the nearest island, took a million years of swimming lessons, spent a lot of time throwing things in the water and then retrieving them.
So when I heard about the limestone swimming holes of the Yucatan I thought
a) “Hooray! A new body of water to swim in!”
b) (“But really it’s just a swimming hole, right?”)
You guys, cenotes are The Most Magical Swimming Holes That Have Ever HappenedThey’re insanely, unnervingly clear and deep and like something out of an 80’s movie involving adventures, and teenagers, and maybe a airplane crash on an island.
Technically, a cenote is “a natural pit, or sinkhole resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.”  Realistically, they’re magic, all over the Yucatan peninsula, and cheap to visit.My friend and I showed up at Crystal Cenote outside of Tulum dorkily early and happily paid $7 to spend as much time as we wanted at two different cenotes. We padded down a short path to a swimming hole that looked like something from Goonies.

* Tall diving platform? Check.
* Rope swing? Check.
* Ropes strung across the hole so you can sit on them (or walk on them and pretend you’re a tightrope walker. You know. Hypothetically.)
* Smart little fox dog who leads you down the path and watches over you
* Water that’s so clear you’re not sure how deep it is and sort of have to give yourself a pep talk to jump in

We spent the next three hours as the only swimmers at the cenote, taking turns on the diving platform, and sitting on the ropes watching our shadows on the rocks beneath us.  Amazing. If you’re traveling through the Yucatan make sure you stop at a few!

Have you ever swum in a cenote?  And was it insanely magical?

* slight exaggeration

New Things: Sleep in a fish house

Each year I make a list of new things I want to try.  Some are easy, some are difficult, some are shockingly mundane.  You can read about past shenanigans here.

 

As I’ve probably mentioned about a million times on this blog, I’m a third generation Minnesotan of Scandinavian heritage. This means I’m blonde, I know how to layer in cold weather, I can make lots of dishes involving potatoes, and I’m decent at just about any activity involving water/ice/snow.
The state I call home boasts 10,000+ lakes and six months of winter. This means that much of the year those thousands of lakes are covered in ice and enterprising, brave souls drill holes through said ice to catch fish. Growing up on a lake in rural Minnesota means I knew how to set a hook from a young age and I spent many, many Saturdays playing Crazy Eights in my dad’s ice fishing house.
If you don’t know, a fish house is a little shanty that anglers sit in while they catch fish through holes in the ice.  There are removeable sections of floor so the anger can drill a hole through the ice, fish from the comfort of his house, cover the hole back up, and then stride around his house without dunking his/her foot in ice water.  Fish houses can be portable and made from canvas or fully insulated with beds, stoves, tables, and a functioning television. (They’re pretty much adult playhouses/forts but don’t tell my dad I said that.)
I’ve spent plenty of time ice fishing, but I’ve never spent the night in a fish house because, well, we’re not that fancy.  But when my old friend Matt offered to let me spend the night in one of the swanky fish houses he rents to clients, I thought I’d be remiss in my duty as a Minnesotan if I didn’t take him up on it.How swanky was this fish house?
* There were electric lights (powered by a hidden car battery)
* There was a two-burner stove (and cups/plates/silverware)
* There were four comfy beds
* Most importantly, there was a super effective, propane-fueled heater. Which was nice, since it got down to -22 the night we slept on Lake Bemidji

So what, exactly, do you do in a fishhouse for 10 hours?  Well, if you’re me, you
* Catch a fish and then feel really bad about it
* Put it in the ice bucket and then stress out about it

* Decide that the catfish minnow is cuter than all the other minnows
* Go on a gas station run so you can use their bathroom/buy Snyder’s honey mustard pretzels
* Ask your super sweet boyfriend if he’ll take the live minnows off the hooks because now you’re sad about them. Swim free little buddies!  I’m sorry we put hooks in you!
* Read portions of your business book aloud
* Drink creepy pre-packaged, crassly named shots
* Take the fish out of the ice bucket and put it back in the hole. Give it a pep talk. Get nervous it’s dead.
* Dump the live minnows down the hole because you’re now completely consumed with guilt.
* Put on your hat. Take off your boots.  You’re hot. Now you’re not hot enough.
* Take phone calls and text message from concerned parties. No, you’re not going to fall through the ice/freeze to death/asphyxiate.
* After all that fun, fall asleep by 10 pm.We woke up in a comfortably heated ice house to a gorgeous sunrise and shocking temperatures.  We ate some cereal for breakfast (we’d put the milk carton on the floor of the fish house and it stayed appropriately cool), bundled up, and started the long drive home.

All in all, an awesome adventure.  I’d totally sleep in the fish house again – but I’ll leave the fishing to someone else.

Have you ever gone ice fishing?  Or slept in a fish house?