Fear

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As my trip comes to a close, I’ve had the time to do a lot of reflecting on the trip. What it meant to me, what I learned from it, what I would do better next time I go on a trip like this, etc. Honestly, all the biggest obstacles I faced came down to one very simple thing: fear.

I was afraid of having our van stolen. I was scared of being robbed (again). I was afraid of climbing the big rocks at the Grand Canyon. I was afraid of longboarding the canyon rim. I was afraid of having to pee in a bottle and I was afraid of my boyfriend having to be there when it happened. I was afraid of people knowing we were sleeping in the van. I was afraid of having someone knock on our window in the middle of the night (which happened twice and I had a mini-panic attack both times.) I was afraid of getting lost. I was afraid of the van breaking down in the middle of nowhere. I was afraid of cliff edges, afraid of heights. Afraid of falling, afraid of hurting myself, afraid to ask for help. Yes, that list goes on.

I climbed some rocks I was unsure of if I would be able to climb. I’ve been woken up in the middle of the night by parking enforcement and being told to leave. I went to the mechanic to get an oil change only to find out that from Illinois to California, we were driving with some bunk wheel hubs that could have broken at any moment. I’ve woken up freezing cold in the middle of the night, forgetting that the weather would be colder up in the mountains. I’ve driven up steep mountains and had the car die on me while trying to turn around. I’ve gotten lost while driving in the forest with no phone signal for miles.

But every time I faced a fear, and I mean every. single. time, the reward was always greater than the fear that came before it. I’m more comfortable in uncertain situations. I’ve met some of the most interesting and amazing people. I’ve experienced the thrill of accelerating down a huge hill at the grand canyon on my longboard and having an uphill gently slow me back down. I’ve eaten homemade chili made from a man who was a former meth addict, who finally pieced his life together and found solace through surfing in California. I’ve seen some of the most incredible, rarely seen views after climbing rocks and boulders that had me shaking in my boots to even approach. I’ve visited friends and been welcomed into the homes of people I love. I’ve had tons of people approach me and ask more about my van and current living situation. I’ve felt peace, waking up to a beautiful view of the ocean next to the cliff edges that I was terrified would crumble beneath my sleeping body. I’ve found calm in the adventure, I’ve found peace in chaos. I’ve found friends in unexpected places, and I’ve found a sense of trust in myself that I never had before.

Living is scary. Living requires you to face the things that terrify you. Living requires you to ignore the odds, have faith in yourself, and trudge onwards.

Living is scary.

But I think what’s scarier is never living in the first place.

 

Grand Canyon

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One of our first big spots that we passed through on our trip was the Grand Canyon. While we were on our way, I decided to look through some blog posts to get a better idea of how to have the best experience. I stumbled across a blog post that talked about how to get the most out of a short trip at the grand canyon, and it proved to be incredibly helpful. We headed to the Grand Canyon with a goal to hike the South Kaibab Trail. Besides that, everything was totally unplanned.

We tried to find a campground, knowing that Mather Campground (the closest campground to the South Rim of the canyon) is usually booked months in advance. However, a little bit of magic resulted in us having the opportunity to stay at Mather for two nights through a walk-in.

The Grand Canyon is beautiful. It’s one of those things that you have to experience. Though I have plenty of pictures, none of them capture what it felt like to be there, among miles and miles of vastness so much larger than yourself.

 

The first day, we decided to wander around, and longboard around the rim which was a crazy experience. We went all the way to Hermit’s Rest, and longboarded it back. I caught a couple nice downhills back, though I’m pretty sure I burned a hole in my shoe from braking so much.

The Kaibab Trail was incredible. Every stopping point had an amazing view. We made it down to Skeleton point, though we had forgotten to bring a ton of water. If you go, BRING A TON OF WATER. Like, at least a gallon, maybe more for good measure. Alexis and I had one water bottle each, and though we made it out okay, the last couple few hours of the hike were miserable.

 

 

Van Life: Bathroom Tales from a Former Germaphobe

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*warning* loads of poop talk *warning*

My poop story

So guys, as many of you already know, I made the decision to start living full-time out of my 1985 Volkswagen Vanagon. When breaking the news to my friends, I got a very common question – “How are you going to go to the bathroom?”

I can act tough on the outside and give a flawless response to the question while quietly screaming internally. My response is simple – I have a Black Card membership to Planet Fitness so I have access to showers and bathrooms 24/7 (at most locations), and if I have an emergency, well, there’s always public bathrooms… *insert mini-breakdown here*

I have been a germaphobe for a long, long time. Yes, I know that no one has ever died from sitting on a toilet in a public restroom, but for some reason, I never got over my fear of going to public restrooms. It was so bad, that there was even a time in college where I passed out from trying to hold in my poop. Yeah, that bad.

So I can count on one hand how many times I’ve pooped in a public bathroom before van life. And it looks like I have finally gotten the hang of it!

How I got over the fear

So, I’m the type of person that has to build scaffolding around my life in order for me to fix or improve something. Fear of public restrooms? Okay, well now your only options are public bathrooms.

There are two things that completely changed my experience, however, and made the transition a ton easier.

GoGirl

As a female, this product has been an absolute. game. changer. I squatted to pee once on a hike in Colorado and I hated every second of it. This literally upgraded my camping experiences (and some drunk experiences too, to be honest) It’s basically a purple reusable silicone penis that lets you pee standing up. It’s awesome, and I use it all the time. I would even go so far as to say I prefer using my GoGirl over going to a bathroom!

Wet Wipes

Wet wipes (currently I have the Costco brand moist towelettes) are also super handy – I always have a pack of them in my backpack, and they’ve saved the day on so many occasions when there wasn’t toilet paper in the stalls *also a huge fear for me*

So am I over being a germaphobe? No – there are definitely improvements to be made, but I tackle it one bathroom at a time.

Happy Travels,

Lubna

The Van.

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Guys. It finally happened. I am officially the owner of a 1985 Volkswagen Vanagon. And I cannot be any happier.

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Meet Daffodil. To me, Daffodil is a symbol of freedom. I’m excited to be part of this journey. The van rebuild has been taxing, but so rewarding.

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I’ll update this page with more progress pictures. The date I’ll be parting on my journey with Daffodil will be May 6th. Let’s see how this goes.

 

On “A Guide to the Good Life” by William Irvine

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As the week comes to a close, I finished up the last few chapters of “A Guide to the Good Life” by William Irvine. Irvine gives a broad introduction to Stoicism, and walks us through the basic

Negative Visualization

Negative Visualization is an easy way to get acquainted with the rules of Stoicism. It’s easy to incorporate into one’s daily life, as it is a common philosophy that many people hold today. Instead of visualizing the things we want, we are instructed as Stoics to imagine losing what we already have. This is supposed to help us practice gratefulness, and reduce the amount that we cling to desires and wants without truly appreciating what we have. This can easily be summed up in the common phrase “Well, it could be worse!” If we learn to practice the art of imagining that we could have less than what we have, Irvine argues that we will eventually restructure our brain to focus on what we have rather than what we do not have, and it will give us fortitude if we lose anything. It teaches us not to take anything for granted, and to be comfortable with the idea that we can lose anything at any given moment in time so that we are not as shocked or discouraged if we do lose something we value.

Trichotomy of Control

Marcus Aurelius initially created a dichotomy of control, but upon further interpretation, there seems to be another layer of control beneath the initial two. The original dichotomy of control as indicated by Aurelius is the things that we have the power to control and the things we do not have the power to control. Aurelius argues that we should not pursue things that we do not have the power to control, and only pursue things that we know we can control. However, there is a third element to this initial assessment – we find that in life there are things that we have some control, but not all. The idea is that we should pursue things we have some control over, so long as we ensure that our values are in the right place. For example, in a tennis match, I do not know what the outcome will be, but I have some control over whether I win or lose. The virtuous path is to be sure that my goal in playing the tennis match is not to win (which I cannot control) but to try my best (which I do have control over). This will ensure that we do not muddy up our thoughts with things that are up to fate to decide and will ensure that we keep a clear head as to the things we try to pursue.

Fatalism

Fatalism is the concept that we should regularly check in with ourselves to remind ourselves that we will one day be dead. This “stepped-back” approach allows us to truly evaluate our virtues at any given moment, and decide for ourselves whether any of this will matter to us in the long run, with the longest run being one in which we do not complete – we will be a mere memory in the near future, and we cannot do anything about it.

The art of Stoicism results in the attainment of genuine joy. We can choose to live with our grief, anger, and anxiety, or we can choose to take the necessary steps to overcome such feelings. In doing so, we will only have room for happiness.

 

 

How to Start Programming in C++ in Visual Studio

Blog, Coding Tutorials

As you start getting familiar with programming in C++, you may find yourself wanting a more robust environment where you can play with code and run programs. Some programmers prefer using a text editor like Brackets or Atom to develop, testing their code through the command prompt. However, you may be looking for something a little more user-friendly, with enhanced features like a debugger, and an ability to see your file hierarchy – which is especially useful for larger projects. For many, this results in using an IDE (Integrated Development Environment). What’s cool about IDE’s is that you can run, compile, execute, and debug code all from one piece of software. If you have decided to look for an IDE, you may be astonished at just how many IDE’s there are. Which one should you pick?

The truth is, it’s all up to your preference. Personally, I really like using Visual Studio. I like that it comes with a compiler, which can eliminate a lot of issues, especially when you’re first getting started. Not only that, Visual Studio is extremely versatile, with support ranging from Virtual Reality development with C#, to having C++ and Python support, to app development. It’s a great one-stop-shop for your development needs, and although it’s bulky, it can be a great place to get started.

To follow along with me, I’ll be assuming you’ve already installed Visual Studio with all the default settings. I’m working with the 2017 version.

Create a New Project

The first thing you’ll want to do is create a new project, which can be found under File > New > Project. This will open up a new window where you can choose what kind of project you’d like to create.

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When you click on Project, a new window will open up. In the sidebar, click on C++. Choose Windows Console Application, and name your project. You can also create a git repository from here, but more on that later. Click Ok.

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Start Coding!

You’ll notice a default C++ file already has been created for you. Here, you can start editing! I inserted a basic C++ program to get us started.

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Run your Program

After you’ve finished editing, you simply go to Debug > Start without Debugging. Another window will open up with your creation.

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And that’s all there is to it! What are you still reading this for? Go try it out!

 

How to Remove a Background in Photoshop

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Removing a background in Photoshop is actually surprisingly easy, and is a common task when modifying images. In order to do this, we simply need to access the polygonal lasso tool.

Capture

The default tool will usually be the regular lasso tool, but if you hold down the lasso, a few more options will appear. Choose the one that looks like the image above.

In small sections, go over the subject and outline them as close as possible. You can use Ctrl + to zoom in and Ctrl – to zoom out, which will give you more control over the smaller details of the image. When you’re done, go to Select > Modify > Smooth. I usually use 3 pixels. Once you’ve done this, you can use the Eraser tool to get rid of the background. After you’ve removed the entire background, you can fill it with whatever color you choose. I will sometimes use a gradient in order to get a more dynamic look from the background.

cirque de kalise (1)cirque de kalise (modified)

Falling on my Face. Repeatedly.

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On Monday and Tuesday, my best friend Courtney and I decided to have a mini-getaway and drove out to the Mississippi River. We stayed at Chestnut Mountain Resort to do a little bit of snowboarding since she’s been shredding since she was a kid and I’ve recently fallen in love with the sport. After a few easy runs down to the river, we decided to give the terrain park a go. She vaguely remembered how to do some tricks, and I was ready for something new. What ensued was the most hilarious, humbling, and rewarding experience I’ve had all month.

We settled on a small beginner fun box, and after a few sips of premade Jose Cuervo margaritas discreetly disguised in a Kombucha bottle, we set on landing some new tricks. At least ten of our first initial tries, we realized we were slowing down too much before the jump, either stopping right before the box or toppling over in a very slow and ungraceful fashion. As the sun was setting and the temperature was quickly dropping into the negatives as a snowstorm set in, we decided to go to our hotel room to warm up, and ended up watching a few episodes of Black Mirror and drawing pictures with gel pens, falling asleep at around 10pm and confirming that tomorrow, we would definitely reach our goal of landing the box jump.

The next morning, the snow had stopped and we were greeted with a beautiful sunrise, casting a delicate lavender light over the Mississippi River. We made some sandwiches and headed out again, determined to accomplish our goal. As we sat on the lift, we saw the box from an aerial perspective and laughed at how TINY the box was, but how big it seemed in the moment. We also saw a younger boarder (which was rare, since we were staying on a weekday and had the whole park to ourselves) gracefully slide over the box.

“Okay,” Courtney mused. “If he can do it we can definitely do this. We just have to not think about it and go as fast as we can.”

We took turns going down first, recording the other as they gave the box a go. I went a little faster than before, and promptly and unceremoniously fell on top of the box, smashing my shins into the rail and hitting my head on the icy ground. I definitely needed to pick up some speed – the consequence of going too slow was a painful kiss from the box’s cold metal rails. Courtney went down next, clearing the box and then falling straight on her back. The videos we have are filled with ridiculous falls followed by hysterical laughter. Why were we doing this again?

After our first falls, we would keep ditching the box, sometimes avoiding it completely. Fear had crept into our heads, muddying up our goals and making it that much harder. We decided that we were overthinking it, and all we had to do was not think about it.

On her second try, Courtney cleared the box in a spectacular fashion, and I can be heard in the recording hooting for joy like an over-proud mother. I hadn’t yet gotten out of my head, and I was rewarded with a few more wipeouts, bruising my knees and ditching the box a few more times. I even got so angry with myself for ditching the box at one point that I unstrapped my bindings and ran back up the mountain to try again, leaving me completely breathless yet grateful that I had spent the week prior sprinting up the seven floors to my sister’s condo after my workouts.

When I finally made it, I had promised myself in my head to stop thinking. I distracted my head with other thoughts, imagined myself clearing the box, and set a goal in my mind to try my best. I went down, picked up some speed, and slid right over the box, finding myself able to even do a cute little jump down the box at the end. I hollered for joy, feeling an incredible mixture of pride and adrenaline coursing through my veins, and we promptly headed for a bigger, longer box. We both cleared the longer box after a few tries and, by the end of the day, we had even gone off some ramps. It was an exhilarating and beautiful experience, one that only reached me as soon as I decided to let go and stop overthinking.

Humans are blessed with an incredible ability to think, but it can also be a trap. I’ve read somewhere that we need to consciously use our brains as a tool, because if we let it control us, we are helpless against ourselves. This is why meditation is so important and effective – it teaches us how to generate awareness of our thoughts, and through practice, learn to control the thoughts themselves. This simple reminder allowed me to stretch beyond what I thought I was capable of and truly enjoy the moment. Courtney and I spent the entire ride back talking about how much fun we had, treating ourselves to huge slim jims, sugary cappuccinos, and spicy skittles as we talked about life on our way back to Chicago.

Let go of what you’re holding on to if it doesn’t serve you. Allow your body to breathe, allow yourself to feel the flow you have inside you. It will most likely amaze you in ways you never thought possible. And above all, don’t give up. Success is only a few tries away.

Letting Go.

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As I’ve started to implement routine into my life, I’ve found that I’ve had ample time to accomplish some of the goals I’ve been meaning to fulfill. Lately, I’ve been consistently meditating, exercising, and spending time delving deeper into philosophical works. Most recently, I’ve been listening to an audiobook translation of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, watching Crash Course philosophy, and I’ve finished a few chapters of A Guide to the Good Life by William Irvine. I couldn’t have come across Stoicism at a more opportune time, as it seems my life has been more chaotic lately than ever. Managing two startups, trying to find a job after college, freelancing, and living out of a backpack all while going through a tough breakup has proved itself to be a very unstable time in my life. However, I’ve found solace in studying philosophy, taking steps towards advancing my career, improving my health and wellness, and I feel grounded amidst all the uncertainty.

Stoicism, as it’s known today, is a philosophy rooted in the idea of detaching oneself from negative emotions by learning to fully appreciate everything that we are given by fortune. This may seem counterproductive, as it suggests the idea of being neutral to everything. However, it pushes the idea of joy and appreciation as something that we have to consciously work on in order to achieve. The hedonistic values prevalent in today’s society leave many people unhappy – we live in a time of unprecedented comfort and security, yet we are increasingly dissatisfied with life. This is due to the fact that we don’t spend time appreciating what we have because we are always chasing the next form of pleasure. This habit leads us to always be in a state of dissatisfaction. Stoicism tells you to take nothing for granted, to fully appreciate what you have, to work as hard as you can towards the goals that you want out of life, and to truly live every day as if it were your last by habitually evaluating what you value in life.

This led me to the concept of letting go. Throughout my life, I’ve clung to my desires, passions, and loves in an unhealthy way. I’ve obsessed over my imperfections, I’ve tried to please everyone in my life, and I had developed a habit of trying to constantly prove myself as a worthy being to the people in my life. However, this all stemmed from an idea that I wasn’t good enough, that there was something inherently wrong with me, and I believed that rejection was proof that I had failed to be an exemplary human being. However, I had to realize that I couldn’t please everyone. I will apply for positions that I believe I am a perfect fit for that will be filled by other candidates. I will experience loss, I will experience grief, difficulty, and uncertainty. People will leave my life, whether through death, through circumstance, or of their own accord, and it is not my job to convince them to stay. I can only appreciate the good times that I’ve had, reflect upon the lessons I’ve learned, work hard to transform my goals into my reality, and find stability in knowing that my time on this Earth has not been wasted – I’ve been fortunate enough to experience it in the first place.

Life will move forward, whether I want it to or not. All I can do is try my best, actively participate, and give it all I’ve got. The rest is up to fortune to determine and, in the end, nothing will truly matter anyway. It may seem like a grim topic to think about, but in the next hundred years, you and everyone you love will be nothing but a distant memory. It is not up to us to determine how long we live, what events we will encounter, or which people will stay in our lives, but we can control how we feel in every moment of every day. It is for this reason that I have learned to let go of the things I can’t control, find joy in the simple pleasures of life, try to be the best version of myself that I can be, and let the universe sort the rest.

Five Reasons Costa Rica is the Best Place on Earth

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Back in the summer of 2016, I went on my first trip out of the country to Costa Rica. It was an incredible experience, and out of all of the places that I’ve traveled, Costa Rica still feels like home. The beauty and incredible weather in CR are coupled with some amazing attributes unique to the country, and I cannot wait to return.

Costa Rica is not just a pretty place – so let me tell you why I think this is the best country on Earth.

The Culture

Costa Rica is home to some of the coolest, most laid-back people I’ve ever met. Our first night, we stayed in these awesome pipe houses. Our Airbnb host had made a beautiful home tucked away in Playa Grande. He gave us the best advice, and he even hooked us up with some discount surf lessons from one of his friends. That friend not only taught us how to surf, he took us on an adventure where we kayaked on top of crocodile-ridden waters.

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The Surf

Costa Rica is part of the peninsula between North and South America, so it has great surf on both coasts, year round. The warm water requires only a rash guard to catch some waves, which spoiled me for life.

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The Biodiversity

Our first night in Costa Rica, we decided to tread out to the beach to look at the full moon. We soon realized we were surrounded by hundreds of colorful crabs, donned in a gorgeous orange and purple outer shell, unlike anything I had ever seen before. We woke up to the sounds of howler monkeys hanging out high up in the trees, tried catching lizards that scurried beneath our feet, and even met this badass biker parrot.

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The Food

The food in Costa Rica incredible. Being in such a tropical area, we were surrounded by fresh, organic fruit everywhere we went. All the meats and cheeses we had were fresh. We met an amazing family who made us dinner one of our nights there, and it was the best meal I had ever had in my life.

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The Government

The Costa Rican government abolished their military in the 50’s, choosing instead to spend their budget on education. They recently elected a female president, Lauren Chinchilla. The laws enacted in this country lead me to believe that they have the right values in mind, being its own oasis of culture and intellect unlike any other place in the world.

And they have some damn good sunsets.

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