Tag Archives: self care

Sunsets, Sunrises, & Relaxation

There are many times I try to find ways to center myself through meditation or just listening to music. This week I learned a 4-7-8 breathing technique from my therapist that I found helpful in the moment. 

First you inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold that breath in for 7 seconds, and then exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. I repeated this about four times – and felt my anxiety sort of melt away. This isn’t a guaranteed fix and I am no expert – but when I learn things that I find helpful for me, I think it is important to share just in case it may help someone else along the way. 

Watching sunsets or sunrises used to be my favorite calming activity that left me feeling a sense of relief and hope. I often miss seeing those sights in my old South Philly apartment and definitely miss the beauty of a Cape May sunset in my hometown. 

Which is why I take so many sunset/sunrise photos and the reason behind the photo wall in my apartment. Looking back over those photographs gives me a sense of comfort, almost like I feel at home when looking at them. 

Here are a few of my favorite sunset/sunrise photos I have captured with my commentary attached: 

North Cape May, NJ by the bay 2015

This photograph was taken the last time I went to see my Mom Mom before she got too sick. Looking back on this photo always gives me chills because it is one of my favorites for how exquisite the sky appears – but knowing what I know now it also feels like a reminder message to appreciate. This photo brings to mind a quote my Mom Mom used to say to me often, “Ya know those bumper stickers that say life’s a beach? Well they lied. Life’s a bitch, not a beach.”

4th and Washington, South Philly 2014

Without a doubt, this right here is one of my favorite photographs I have ever taken during my time living in Philly. I used to walk all around this city and I captured this on my walk home from a restaurant shift. As a person that grew up in a beach town, I consider myself able to say this… Philadelphia has some of the best sunsets I have ever laid my eyes on. With that being said, most things Philly remind me of Grouplove – and at the point in my life when I took this photo I used to play this band so much it got on a lot of peoples nerves.

Mifflin Street, Home Sweet Home 2015

I really loved this apartment because of the sunset and sunrise views I got. After living in the same house for 23 years of my life, knowing I could never return because it was sold – I never knew if I would feel the same sense of home again. I felt that deeply when living in this city and viewing this skyline everyday. It gave me a lot of hope and reminds me of this quote by Mary Oliver, “Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

Views from Seattle 2015

My spontaneous 25th “treat yo self” birthday present …one of the best decisions I ever made. A city I often dreamed about moving to since I was 13 or 15. Andrea Gibson one of my favorite poets has said, “Commit to loving yourself completely. It’s the most radical thing you will do in your lifetime.” That is what that trip and that fiery sunset photograph remind me of – to love oneself.

The View of a Mifflin St Sunset 2015

I wasn’t kidding when I said this view delivered sunsets and sunrises to photograph nonstop. In my early to mid twenties living in Philly, I did feel lost and unsure of what the future held – but seeing those bursts of color in the sky made everything seem okay. Sometimes I’d ask myself in Talking Heads fashion though, “How did I get here?”

Balcony South Philly Views 2016

Oh to have a private outside space in the city! And with sunset views that look like a painting? My Dad used to send me this song (Fall in Philadelphia by Hall and Oates) all the time when I lived in Philly, so naturally it is bound to jog my memory when looking at these glorious Philly photographs.

Portland Maine sunrise 2017

First trip to Portland, ME was a solo trip and I fell in love with this town. So much so that I made sure that one of the first trips my partner and I went on was to come back to Portland. This sunrise was a resetting of sorts, and beginnings were right around the corner that I didn’t know were coming yet. Whenever I need a bit of hope, I often will play some Rilo Kiley – that resonates deeply with this photo. A sunrise bringing on many new horizons.

NYC Christmas Eve 2018

The first Christmas I spent with my partner in NYC and it was absolutely magical. There really is a sunset for every special moment in life. After this view we went to dinner and then spent the majority of Christmas Eve in Cubbyhole when Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” came on. That song tends to follow us around, and when I look at this photo I think of my partner and our moments with that song.

Ocean City, MD at sunrise 2018

I grew up in Cape May, but my partner grew up going to Ocean City Maryland (which as someone from NJ that is not the Ocean City I knew). The sunrises we could see from the balcony were breathtaking. I remember during this time having lived in DC for about a year – really needing something to bring me back to myself. I didn’t appreciate sunrises or waking up early until I got a bit older. Truthfully I only ever get up early because of sunrises.

Sunrise Over South Philly 2015

No, this isn’t a painting…although it definitely looks like one. I remember rolling out of bed this morning and seeing how exquisite the sunrise was. I sat there trying to capture the vibrant colors. Hands down my favorite sunrise photo I ever captured living in this apartment. The song that started to play in my mind when looking back at this photo was “New Slang” by The Shins…no clue why, but it seemed right.

South of Spruce Street Harbor Sunset, 2016

Every now and again I would walk from South Philly up to the waterfront right around the time the sun would be setting. Growing up by the ocean I often feel compelled to seek out bodies of water as a sense of comfort or reminder that things flowing along in life as they should be. This sunset was one that brought me reassurance. In the words of Mary Oliver, “I don’t ask for the sights in front of me to change, only the depth of my seeing.” Although plot twist, the sights did change because I ended up in DC the following year.

Born & Raised: Cape May Beach Sunset 2014

Last, but not least and with a classic old Instagram frame added to it as well. This was taken during my first trip back visiting my hometown after my childhood home sold and I moved to Philly. I longboarded down to the beach front from my old work place where I was visiting some old friends just to capture this sunset. My love for sunsets all stem from where I was born and raised – it is often how I hold on to that piece of me as I exist in other places in the world. You’re welcome in advance for this old Al Alberts classic…I guess I love my lil ol’ hometown in NJ more than I like to admit sometimes.

*please contact me for permission to use any photographs or if you would like a print*

In the Midst of Chaos

By – Tray Taylor
IG: @allusiontoreality

In the most chaotic of times you would think we as humans would take a minute to grow in self awareness of the happenings in the world that surrounds us. 

As the calendar keeps on creeping by I realize that it has almost been a year since the last time I functioned in the world without a mask, around my friends, and in a restaurant. 

Now that it’s been snowing for the past three days in DC, it’s really *snowballed* me in the face with how desperate we’ve been all trying to reach for normal…when there is no such thing as normal

Suddenly we are pressing on the gas pedal harder than ever before (and believe me, before we were still pressing it way too hard). Snow days used to be enjoyable and relaxing days at home – things we look forward to. Now it is much like how we’ve been living through this entire pandemic .. doing too much instead of taking a moment to just….be. 

In a world full of chaos (and a whole lot lacking in self-awareness of the going-ons around us…) I wish for you that you give yourself space to re-center. 

When the world is on overdrive to destination insanity – do yourself a favor and wait for the next bus. 

Finding the things that center you can be so vital to thriving in this life. Here are some examples of my own:

+Coffee (iced) – Iced black coffee soothes my soul, and yes it must be iced …even when it is snowing outside. *side note: there are times when my anxiety is far too high for the beverage I adore the most, so I have to switch to matcha tea*

+Naps – I hated naps as a kid. In daycare I would just lay there in the dark waiting for one of my parents to come pick me up. Now? I love them. I learned the hard way though that is is best to take short power naps and avoid napping for too long – the best reset button for the afternoon (or anytime) 

+Fresh air – It hasn’t always been easy to get myself to go outside, I won’t lie about that. When I do though? Sometimes I still regret it …but sometimes I also love it and take enjoyment in just being outside and smelling the fresh air.

+My favorite food – The one thing that can turn my day around is knowing I will be having pizza for dinner – no joke. Living in DC for four years though…I make my pizza at home mostly because well..I’m from NJ and I didn’t realize how good I had it until I no longer lived in the areas of NY, NJ, and Philly.

+Listening to music on vinyl – This is an experience of finding a comfortable center for me – going through my collection and trying to find the right record to play. Mostly I just lay and listen for a little bit – or I clean my apartment while it plays. 

+Cooking – This is a new one for me… sort of. I used to bake and I enjoyed doing that more than anything – especially baking for others. Now I cook significantly more than I ever have, and I realize how creating recipes and trying to cook different things is enjoyable for me (guess that’s another thing I got from my Chef of a Dad) 

+Writing Poetry – The creative in me needs to put words on paper when I am feeling almost any kind of emotion. Writing poetry is my way of dancing out my emotions – but on paper.

+Watching an old favorite TV show – Golden Girls anyone? Maybe some Living Single? Old sitcoms bring me so much joy and they are a great way, especially now, to just let ourselves laugh and not be consumed with so many thoughts. 

+Listening to voicemails I saved from my Mom Mom – My Mom-Mom was my rock. And I am extremely grateful that I had saved some of her voicemails before she passed a few years back. This year especially was one where I found myself going back and listening to them – mostly because I wanted so badly to just call her up, but couldn’t. 

There are many things out there other than those that I listed that have gotten me through this year. Some in a greater deal than others – but that’s the point…no matter how big or small… there are things we can turn to to center ourselves. 

…and just one final thought, as Margaret Atwood wrote in Handmaid’s Tale:
Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum = “Don’t let the bastards grind you down”

To Do List: You

By Tray Taylor
IG: @allusiontoreality

Things I have realized about myself in the past several months since the lockdown of March 2020: 

  • I love lists (and they help keep me sane)
  • My anxiety has increased with age (or I always had anxiety & just never had the language…but it most definitely has still increased with age either way)
  • I am happier when I am reading (since I have started to pick up reading more and binge tv less I have noticed I feel more grounded) 
  • Stretching is a necessity for a person like me (who has severe herniated and bulging discs) 
  • Listening to music increases my productivity and brings me joy
  • I don’t need to completely cut off coffee (I love it too much – there is a thing of balance between coffee & tea) 
  • Creating new recipes & cooking is a way to show my love for others and gets my creative juices flowing in the kitchen (grateful that I have been able to cook for not just myself, but my partner over this time in quarantine..) 
  • Above all else – writing makes me feel whole

I’m sure the list could go on and on (see above, cause ya know…I love lists). The point is though, I’m not sure I fall amongst those that have “accomplished so much over this time” but I know I have learned a lot about myself. I’m sure you all have too, if you take some time to reflect. Sometimes the tiniest of things are actually rewards, just depends on your point of view. 

The world is still in chaos, whether we are choosing to be aware of that or not. It just is, and more than likely will be for a bit. 

In knowing that, the most important question is – how are you taking care of you?

Remember the flight attendant reminds us (remember flights? Airplanes?…those things in the sky?) before trying to save others we must put the oxygen mask on ourselves first. 

If you set goals for yourself in the age old “New Year, New Me” mindset – good for you. If you didn’t, eh no worries – I didn’t either. One thing I will propose you do after you finish reading this post is: think of one thing you promise to do that will be taking care of you this year – one thing that will leave you feeling happier, more loved, healthier, or better taken care of. 

What’s that one thing?

And I’ll leave you with a line from one of my favorite poets: 

“You are the best thing that has ever happened to you”
– Andrea Gibson, ‘Boomerang Valentine’

More Music. Less Social Media.

By Tray Taylor
IG @allusiontoreality

I tried to hold myself accountable this week by listening to more music and being on social media less. My conclusion was that I need to do this more often.

This wasn’t something where I attempted to avoid social media all together, just being aware of intentionally using it less. There were definite times when I had to check myself. Like when I would find my finger subconsciously hitting the Instagram button when I was just trying to check the weather app.

Making this intentional change for the week was important because I wanted to be focusing on doing things for myself. Not letting work or other obstacles deteriorate my mental health.

So, I revisited an old habit of mine that allows me to recenter. I was listening to music that reminds me of bright moments throughout my life. One thing I truthfully love about music is how a song or an artist can sort of transform us back to a “back when” moment or remind of us a certain person.

Here are a few songs that have taken me back this week to more delightful moments

1. Mother We Share – Chvrches

Okay, so I am a fan of the entire album and I highly recommend it if you haven’t listened to it before. This song particularly though transforms me back to my first year in Philly – my first year of “independence” as an adult. They were definitely times of struggle for various reasons, but overall this song brings me feelings of nostalgia for a time in my life that I will forever be grateful for. A time in my life that helped me grow.

2. Naked Kids – Grouplove


This is another song that takes me back to Philly. A time when I was waiting tables, running food, and making cocktails. I thought I was going to be in the restaurant industry forever, I didn’t realize how special the moments I was living in would end up being. I met a handful of spectacular folks working in the industry in Philly – the job itself wasn’t always pretty. The memories we made both on and after the shifts were over – those are the moments I will cherish forever.


3. The Garden State Soundtrack


Did I mention I was from New Jersey? Don’t hold it against me, please. Well, I was in high school when I fell in love with the movie Garden State (that was Zach Braff’s love letter to NJ) and I fell even deeper in love with the soundtrack. I am pretty sure my senior year quote was straight from this movie, “If you can’t laugh at yourself, life’s gonna seem a whole lot longer than you like.” Anyway, this entire soundtrack is beautiful and it needs to be listened to in its entirety (I have it on vinyl, and I highly recommend it). It’s important for me to note, I hated high school and I would never ever want to relive the experience. This music takes me back to the house that I grew up in for 23 years, and driving around in my old Jeep Cherokee Sport getting lost in the music driving along the back bay roads.

4. Cake – Flo Rida

Pure joy and silliness is what feeling this song ignites for me. 2017 was my last year in Philly and it was also my last year coaching the team that meant a lot to me – which is when this song was brought into my life. The team was in a van, on a spring break road trip, as the other assistant coach was driving she turns this song on. It was followed by a lot of laughter and memories I keep with me on days when I need to be taken back to that time in my life.

5. Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters – Elton John

My first New Years in DC, I didn’t know many people other than those I worked with. I was invited to a (now very dear) friends house and at some point in the night I think this song played a couple of times. For whatever reason, I’ve held onto this song because of the line “I thank the Lord there’s people out there like you” those words remind me of the close friends I have made in DC. Living here hasn’t always been easy- but I know life brought me to this city for a reason. I truthfully believe a majority of that reason is because of the people that entered my life while I have been here and changed it for the better in ways they may not be aware of. Those folks are some pretty tremendous humans that I am reminded of whenever I hear this song. *Also highly recommend Mandy Moore’s cover of this song*

Be sure to share in the comments a song that brings you back to a time or person in your life that brings a smile to your face.

Now, I am going to go get lost in some music and Mariah Carey’s memoir The Meaning of Mariah Carey that arrived in the mail earlier this week.

The (Defeating) Path to Publication

“Look in the mirror and repeat”
by Tray Taylor
IG @allusiontoreality

How is it possible to stay positive when you keep getting met with rejection?

I’ve been posing this question to myself for the past couple of weeks. I recently took an initiative to try to get my writing published. While in grad school writing took a backseat for a few years, and now that I graduated this past May- I have my focus back on my true passion of writing.

A perhaps strange fact about me is when I was younger, I loved getting rejection notices, because it still meant my writing was being received. Lately, it has felt defeating and left me questioning my own abilities.

In those moments I try to think of advice from writers I admire. Remembering reading their journeys of how they got to where they are and that is was often met with rejection before it was met with admiration.

Some of the things that I have added to my to-do list to get past these drowning feels of rejection are:

  • Reading poetry – lots and lots of it
    • I’m trying to remember that reading words from poets I admire can inspire me to keep going. Some of the poets I keep reading over & over lately: Rudy Francisco, Mary Oliver, & Andrea Gibson. If you haven’t read any of their work – go read it now…even if you aren’t looking to get inspired to write…I promise you these poets will inspire you to DO ANYTHING you’ve been looking to get inspired to do.
  • Painting
    • This is not my area of expertise in any shape or form – believe me I have close friends that can ACTUALLY paint. However, my partner recently bought me a plethora of things to paint with and I have found it to center me when I need it the most. I’ve been experiencing plenty of “down” feelings lately because of writers block as well as rejection letters – so I am grateful for this newly discovered outlet. (Shameless plug of my “art” Instagram: @allusiontoreality).
  • Going for a walk
    • This is something I used to do a lot when I lived in Philly and that habit stopped when I moved to DC – p.s. Philly, I miss you. Starting back up the daily walking habit has helped though. Just as much as searching for flowers to take pictures of as I go. Looking for beauty around me to remind me of the importance of not allowing myself to stay in the negative headspace.
  • Sitting with it
    • Sometimes this is the most important thing to do. I allow myself to feel the feelings for a few moments, and then pull myself together to make a plan for the next move.

As I write this I am already thinking of the list of submissions I will make for this week.

What are somethings that get you through feelings of defeat? Or fellow writers, do you have any advice for feeling like you’re on a road that keeps putting rejection signs in your path?

The Soundtrack of My Week

“Give yourself a break”
by Tray Taylor
IG @allusiontoreality

What a week.

As I type that I can hear Jack Donaghy in my head reminding Liz Lemon it’s only Wednesday. The show has been off for years, and I still find 30 Rock references to be relevant in my everyday life. *cue the BLERGH sound effect*

For the sake of my own sanity, I have been forcing myself to find pockets of joy in every possible way. Lately, music has been what is bringing me that flash of glittering happiness. Whether it is listening to the music on my laptop, headphones, or vinyl on my record player.

The songs are never the same genre and never within the same decade. My music taste is vast and it ranges over a plethora of time periods. I owe that to my “old soul” personality and to my Dad who raised me to appreciate a wide array of music. So, if you ever need a partner on “Name that Tune” just send me an e-mail and I am game.

I am going to share the songs that have been getting me through this week within this post. Maybe they will inspire you to make a playlist. (Just a note, I have a playlist for every season and every moment or mood. I take making playlists very, very seriously.) Maybe my song suggestions will help you to discover a new artist or song. I just know what the power of music has done for me when I use it intentionally. And maybe, with intention, you will be able to find a tune to get lost into – if even for a moment. Those tiny moments are vital right now.

So what are my songs of the week you might be wondering?

  1. Hot Stuff – Donna Summer & Kygo

Overall, this week I have been listening to (on repeat) a “disco diva” playlist on Spotify. This is a prime example of what I mean when I say the music I am listening to depends on my mood. Then, Kygo dropped this remix last Friday and it has been on repeat daily in my apartment

2. Loose Lucy – Grateful Dead

I grew up a fan of classic rock and more so grew into liking jam bands when I was a teenager thru my early twenties. If you have been to my apartment or “you knew me when” you would know that I am a bit of a Dead Head. This week I was revisiting my roots and this song had me up and dancing along as if I was at a Dead concert all over again.

3. A No No – Mariah Carey

The only person that can get away with using “irregardless” (because that is not a word) in a song and make it a bop is Ms. Mariah. I have been on a “I have a watch, but I do not have the time” kick lately with a lot of things – so this song has felt like my theme song for the past two weeks.

4. I Am Woman – Helen Reddy

This song has two meanings for me. I played it on repeat Friday after I heard the news of RBG’s passing while on the phone with a good friend. The other meaning this song has me for me was a few years ago, during my first year of coaching – the head coach had the athletes make up a dance to this song at the end of the season as a traditional team bonding activity. Lately, I have been missing that community a lot and how that place & those people really felt like a second home.

5. The District Sleeps Alone Tonight – The Postal Service

Truthfully, I have been listening to this whole album on repeat as I go for walks. This is a throwback to younger times for me, but has always been a favorite. Listening to it now has a different meaning to me than what it meant to me years ago. I love how music can grow with us, and teach us different things as we get older – even though it is the same old song.

See, I told you my taste was random. If you aren’t a fan of the music I shared this week, that’s okay- maybe the next time I share a few songs you will enjoy a couple of them.

Now, I challenge you- is there any song this week that has been giving you that glitter of happiness? Share it with me in the comments, there is nothing I enjoy more than discovering new music. Especially music that gives others a sense of joy.

Remember to keep in mind – sometimes we just need a reset, and sometimes we just need to dance it out. *See what I did there? Begin with a TV reference and end with a TV reference. Thank you Yang, Grey, and Shonda Rhimes*